The Roadmender_修路人_ by dugm1979


									      The Roadmender

The Roadmender
   by Michael Fairless

   The Roadmender

The Roadmender

                               The Roadmender

                               CHAPTER I

      I HAVE attained my ideal: I am a roadmender, some say
stonebreaker. Both titles are correct, but the one is more pregnant than
the other. All day I sit by the roadside on a stretch of grass under a
high hedge of saplings and a tangle of traveller's joy, woodbine,
sweetbrier, and late roses. Opposite me is a white gate, seldom used, if
one may judge from the trail of honeysuckle growing tranquilly along it:
I know now that whenever and wherever I die my soul will pass out
through this white gate; and then, thank God, I shall not have need to
undo that trail.
     In our youth we discussed our ideals freely: I wonder how many
beside myself have attained, or would understand my attaining.         After
all, what do we ask of life, here or indeed hereafter, but leave to serve, to
live, to commune with our fellowmen and with ourselves; and from the
lap of earth to look up into the face of God? All these gifts are mine as
I sit by the winding white road and serve the footsteps of my fellows.
There is no room in my life for avarice or anxiety; I who serve at the
altar live of the altar: I lack nothing but have nothing over; and when
the winter of life comes I shall join the company of weary old men who
sit on the sunny side of the workhouse wall and wait for the tender
mercies of God.
     Just now it is the summer of things; there is life and music
everywhere - in the stones themselves, and I live to-day beating out the
rhythmical hammer-song of The Ring. There is real physical joy in the
rise and swing of the arm, in the jar of a fair stroke, the split and scatter
of the quartz: I am learning to be ambidextrous, for why should Esau
sell his birthright when there is enough for both? Then the rest-hour
comes, bringing the luxurious ache of tired but not weary limbs; and I lie
outstretched and renew my strength, sometimes with my face deep-
nestled in the cool green grass, sometimes on my back looking up into
the blue sky which no wise man would wish to fathom.
     The birds have no fear of me; am I not also of the brown brethren in
my sober fustian livery? They share my meals - at least the little dun-
                               The Roadmender

coated Franciscans do; the blackbirds and thrushes care not a whit for
such simple food as crumbs, but with legs well apart and claws tense
with purchase they disinter poor brother worm, having first mocked him
with sound of rain. The robin that lives by the gate regards my heap of
stones as subject to his special inspection. He sits atop and practises
the trill of his summer song until it shrills above and through the metallic
clang of my strokes; and when I pause he cocks his tail, with a humorous
twinkle of his round eye which means - "What! shirking, big brother?" -
and I fall, ashamed, to my mending of roads.
     The other day, as I lay with my face in the grass, I heard a gentle
rustle, and raised my head to find a hedge-snake watching me fearless,
unwinking. I stretched out my hand, picked it up unresisting, and put it
in my coat like the husbandman of old. Was he so ill-rewarded, I
wonder, with the kiss that reveals secrets? My snake slept in peace
while I hammered away with an odd quickening of heart as I thought
how to me, as to Melampus, had come the messenger - had come, but to
ears deafened by centuries of misrule, blindness, and oppression; so that,
with all my longing, I am shut out of the wondrous world where walked
Melampus and the Saint. To me there is no suggestion of evil in the
little silent creatures, harmless, or deadly only with the Death which is
Life.       The beasts who turn upon us, as a rule maul and tear
unreflectingly; with the snake there is the swift, silent strike, the tiny,
tiny wound, then sleep and a forgetting.
     My brown friend, with its message unspoken, slid away into the
grass at sundown to tell its tale in unstopped ears; and I, my task done,
went home across the fields to the solitary cottage where I lodge. It is
old and decrepit - two rooms, with a quasi-attic over them reached by a
ladder from the kitchen and reached only by me. It is furnished with the
luxuries of life, a truckle bed, table, chair, and huge earthenware pan
which I fill from the ice-cold well at the back of the cottage. Morning
and night I serve with the Gibeonites, their curse my blessing, as no
doubt it was theirs when their hearts were purged by service. Morning
and night I send down the moss-grown bucket with its urgent message
from a dry and dusty world; the chain tightens through my hand as the

                              The Roadmender

liquid treasure responds to the messenger, and then with creak and jangle
- the welcome of labouring earth - the bucket slowly nears the top and
disperses the treasure in the waiting vessels. The Gibeonites were
servants in the house of God, ministers of the sacrament of service even
as the High Priest himself; and I, sharing their high office of servitude,
thank God that the ground was accursed for my sake, for surely that
curse was the womb of all unborn blessing.
    The old widow with whom I lodge has been deaf for the last twenty
years. She speaks in the strained high voice which protests against her
own infirmity, and her eyes have the pathetic look of those who search
in silence. For many years she lived alone with her son, who laboured
on the farm two miles away. He met his death rescuing a carthorse
from its burning stable; and the farmer gave the cottage rent free and a
weekly half-crown for life to the poor old woman whose dearest terror
was the workhouse. With my shilling a week rent, and sharing of
supplies, we live in the lines of comfort. Of death she has no fears, for
in the long chest in the kitchen lie a web of coarse white linen, two
pennies covered with the same to keep down tired eyelids, decent white
stockings, and a white cotton sun-bonnet - a decorous death-suit truly -
and enough money in the little bag for self-respecting burial. The
farmer buried his servant handsomely - good man, he knew the love of
reticent grief for a 'kind' burial - and one day Harry's mother is to lie
beside him in the little churchyard which has been a cornfield, and may
some day be one again.

                               The Roadmender

                              CHAPTER II

     ON Sundays my feet take ever the same way. First my temple
service, and then five miles tramp over the tender, dewy fields, with
their ineffable earthy smell, until I reach the little church at the foot of
the grey-green down. Here, every Sunday, a young priest from a
neighbouring village says Mass for the tiny hamlet, where all are very
old or very young - for the heyday of life has no part under the long
shadow of the hills, but is away at sea or in service. There is a
beautiful seemliness in the extreme youth of the priest who serves these
aged children of God. He bends to communicate them with the
reverent tenderness of a son, and reads with the careful intonation of far-
seeing love. To the old people he is the son of their old age, God-sent
to guide their tottering footsteps along the highway of foolish wayfarers;
and he, with his youth and strength, wishes no better task. Service
ended, we greet each other friendly - for men should not be strange in
the acre of God; and I pass through the little hamlet and out and up on
the grey down beyond. Here, at the last gate, I pause for breakfast;
and then up and on with quickening pulse, and evergreen memory of the
weary war-worn Greeks who broke rank to greet the great blue Mother-
way that led to home. I stand on the summit hatless, the wind in my
hair, the smack of salt on my cheek, all round me rolling stretches of
cloud-shadowed down, no sound but the shrill mourn of the peewit and
the gathering of the sea.
     The hours pass, the shadows lengthen, the sheep-bells clang; and I
lie in my niche under the stunted hawthorn watching the to and fro of the
sea, and AEolus shepherding his white sheep across the blue. I love the
sea with its impenetrable fathoms, its wash and undertow, and rasp of
shingle sucked anew. I love it for its secret dead in the Caverns of
Peace, of which account must be given when the books are opened and
earth and heaven have fled away. Yet in my love there is a paradox, for
as I watch the restless, ineffective waves I think of the measureless,
reflective depths of the still and silent Sea of Glass, of the dead, small
                               The Roadmender

and great, rich or poor, with the works which follow them, and of the
Voice as the voice of many waters, when the multitude of one mind
rends heaven with alleluia: and I lie so still that I almost feel the kiss
of White Peace on my mouth. Later still, when the flare of the sinking
sun has died away and the stars rise out of a veil of purple cloud, I take
my way home, down the slopes, through the hamlet, and across miles of
sleeping fields; over which night has thrown her shifting web of mist -
home to the little attic, the deep, cool well, the kindly wrinkled face with
its listening eyes - peace in my heart and thankfulness for the rhythm of
the road.
     Monday brings the joy of work, second only to the Sabbath of rest,
and I settle to my heap by the white gate. Soon I hear the distant stamp
of horsehoofs, heralding the grind and roll of the wheels which reaches
me later - a heavy flour-waggon with a team of four great gentle horses,
gay with brass trappings and scarlet ear-caps. On the top of the craftily
piled sacks lies the white-clad waggoner, a pink in his mouth which he
mumbles meditatively, and the reins looped over the inactive whip - why
should he drive a willing team that knows the journey and responds as
strenuously to a cheery chirrup as to the well-directed lash? We greet
and pass the time of day, and as he mounts the rise he calls back a
warning of coming rain. I am already white with dust as he with flour,
sacramental dust, the outward and visible sign of the stir and beat of the
heart of labouring life.
     Next to pass down the road is an anxious ruffled hen, her speckled
breast astir with maternal troubles. She walks delicately, lifting her feet
high and glancing furtively from side to side with comb low dressed.
The sight of man, the heartless egg-collector, from whose haunts she has
fled, wrings from her a startled cluck, and she makes for the white gate,
climbs through, and disappears. I know her feelings too well to intrude.
Many times already has she hidden herself, amassed four or five
precious treasures, brooding over them with anxious hope; and then,
after a brief desertion to seek the necessary food, she has returned to find
her efforts at concealment vain, her treasures gone. At last, with the
courage of despair she has resolved to brave the terrors of the unknown

                               The Roadmender

and seek a haunt beyond the tyranny of man. I will watch over her
from afar, and when her mother-hope is fulfilled I will marshal her and
her brood back to the farm where she belongs; for what end I care not to
think, it is of the mystery which lies at the heart of things; and we are all
God's beasts, says St Augustine.
    Here is my stone-song, a paraphrase of the Treasure Motif.
    [Music score which cannot be reproduced. It is F# dotted crotchet,
F# quaver, F# quaver, F# dotted crotchet, D crotchet, E crotchet.        This
bar is then repeated once more.]
    What a wonderful work Wagner has done for humanity in translating
the toil of life into the readable script of music! For those who seek the
tale of other worlds his magic is silent; but earth- travail under his wand
becomes instinct with rhythmic song to an accompaniment of the
elements, and the blare and crash of the bottomless pit itself. The
Pilgrim's March is the sad sound of footsore men; the San Graal the
tremulous yearning of servitude for richer, deeper bondage. The
yellow, thirsty flames lick up the willing sacrifice, the water wails the
secret of the river and the sea; the birds and beasts, the shepherd with his
pipe, the underground life in rocks and caverns, all cry their message to
this nineteenth-century toiling, labouring world - and to me as I mend
my road.
    Two tramps come and fling themselves by me as I eat my noonday
meal. The one, red-eyed, furtive, lies on his side with restless,
clutching hands that tear and twist and torture the living grass, while his
lips mutter incoherently. The other sits stooped, bare- footed, legs wide
apart, his face grey, almost as grey as his stubbly beard; and it is not long
since Death looked him in the eyes. He tells me querulously of a two
hundred miles tramp since early spring, of search for work, casual jobs
with more kicks than halfpence, and a brief but blissful sojourn in a
hospital bed, from which he was dismissed with sentence passed upon
him. For himself, he is determined to die on the road under a hedge,
where a man can see and breathe. His anxiety is all for his fellow; HE
has said he will "do for a man"; he wants to "swing," to get out of his
"dog's life." I watch him as he lies, this Ishmael and would-be Lamech.

                             The Roadmender

Ignorance, hunger, terror, the exhaustion of past generations, have done
their work. The man is mad, and would kill his fellowman.
    Presently we part, and the two go, dogged and footsore, down the
road which is to lead them into the great silence.

                               The Roadmender

                             CHAPTER III

    YESTERDAY was a day of encounters.
    First, early in the morning, a young girl came down the road on a
bicycle. Her dressguard was loose, and she stopped to ask for a piece
of string. When I had tied it for her she looked at me, at my worn dusty
clothes and burnt face; and then she took a Niphetos rose from her belt
and laid it shyly in my dirty disfigured palm. I bared my head, and
stood hat in hand looking after her as she rode away up the hill. Then I
took my treasure and put it in a nest of cool dewy grass under the hedge.
    My next visitor was a fellow-worker on his way to a job at the cross-
roads. He stood gazing meditatively at my heap of stones.
    "Ow long 'ave yer bin at this job that y'ere in such a hurry?"
    I stayed my hammer to answer - "Four months."
    "Seen better days?"
    "Never," I said emphatically, and punctuated the remark with a stone
split neatly in four.
    The man surveyed me in silence for a moment; then he said slowly,
"Mean ter say yer like crackin' these blamed stones to fill 'oles some
other fool's made?"
    I nodded.
    "Well, that beats everything. Now, I 'AVE seen better days; worked
in a big brewery over near Maidstone - a town that, and something doing;
and now, 'ere I am, 'ammering me 'eart out on these blasted stones for a
bit o' bread and a pipe o' baccy once a week - it ain't good enough." He
pulled a blackened clay from his pocket and began slowly filling it with
rank tobacco; then he lit it carefully behind his battered hat, put the spent
match back in his pocket, rose to his feet, hitched his braces, and, with a
silent nod to me, went on to his job.
    Why do we give these tired children, whose minds move slowly,
whose eyes are holden that they cannot read the Book, whose hearts are
full of sore resentment against they know not what, such work as this to
                               The Roadmender

do - hammering their hearts out for a bit of bread? All the pathos of
unreasoning labour rings in these few words. We fit the collar on
unwilling necks; and when their service is over we bid them go out free;
but we break the good Mosaic law and send them away empty. What
wonder there is so little willing service, so few ears ready to be thrust
through against the master's door.
    The swift stride of civilisation is leaving behind individual effort,
and turning man into the Daemon of a machine. To and fro in front of
the long loom, lifting a lever at either end, paces he who once with
painstaking intelligence drove the shuttle. THEN he tasted the joy of
completed work, that which his eye had looked upon, and his hands had
handled; now his work is as little finished as the web of Penelope.
Once the reaper grasped the golden corn stems, and with dexterous
sweep of sickle set free the treasure of the earth. Once the creatures of
the field were known to him, and his eye caught the flare of scarlet and
blue as the frail poppies and sturdy corn-cockles laid down their beauty
at his feet; now he sits serene on Juggernaut's car, its guiding Daemon,
and the field is silent to him.
    As with the web and the grain so with the wood and stone in the
treasure-house of our needs. The ground was accursed FOR OUR SAKE
that in the sweat of our brow we might eat bread. Now the many live
in the brain-sweat of the few; and it must be so, for as little as great King
Cnut could stay the sea until it had reached the appointed place, so little
can we raise a barrier to the wave of progress, and say, "Thus far and no
further shalt thou come."
    What then? This at least; if we live in an age of mechanism let us
see to it that we are a race of intelligent mechanics; and if man is to be
the Daemon of a machine let him know the setting of the knives, the rise
of the piston, the part that each wheel and rod plays in the economy of
the whole, the part that he himself plays, co-operating with it. Then,
when he has lived and served intelligently, let us give him of our flocks
and of our floor that he may learn to rest in the lengthening shadows
until he is called to his work above.
    So I sat, hammering out my thoughts, and with them the conviction

                               The Roadmender

that stonebreaking should be allotted to minor poets or vagrant children
of nature like myself, never to such tired folk as my poor mate at the
cross-roads and his fellows.
     At noon, when I stopped for my meal, the sun was baking the hard
white road in a pitiless glare. Several waggons and carts passed, the
horses sweating and straining, with drooping, fly-tormented ears. The
men for the most part nodded slumberously on the shaft, seeking the
little shelter the cart afforded; but one shuffled in the white dust, with an
occasional chirrup and friendly pressure on the tired horse's neck.
     Then an old woman and a small child appeared in sight, both with
enormous sun-bonnets and carrying baskets. As they came up with me
the woman stopped and swept her face with her hand, while the child,
depositing the basket in the dust with great care, wiped her little sticky
fingers on her pinafore. Then the shady hedge beckoned them and they
came and sat down near me. The woman looked about seventy, tall,
angular, dauntless, good for another ten years of hard work. The little
maid - her only grandchild, she told me - was just four, her father away
soldiering, and the mother died in childbed, so for four years the child
had known no other guardian or playmate than the old woman. She
was not the least shy, but had the strange self-possession which comes
from associating with one who has travelled far on life's journey.
     "I couldn't leave her alone in the house," said her grandmother, "and
she wouldn't leave the kitten for fear it should be lonesome" - with a
humorous, tender glance at the child - "but it's a long tramp in the heat
for the little one, and we've another mile to go."
     "Will you let her bide here till you come back?" I said. "She'll be
all right by me."
     The old lady hesitated.
     "Will 'ee stay by him, dearie?" she said.
     The small child nodded, drew from her miniature pocket a piece of
sweetstuff, extracted from the basket a small black cat, and settled in for
the afternoon. Her grandmother rose, took her basket, and, with a nod
and "Thank 'ee kindly, mister," went off down the road.
     I went back to my work a little depressed - why had I not white hair?

                                The Roadmender

- for a few minutes had shown me that I was not old enough for the child
despite my forty years. She was quite happy with the little black cat,
which lay in the small lap blinking its yellow eyes at the sun; and
presently an old man came by, lame and bent, with gnarled twisted
hands, leaning heavily on his stick.
     He greeted me in a high, piping voice, limped across to the child,
and sat down. "Your little maid, mister?" he said.
     I explained.
     "Ah," he said, "I've left a little darlin' like this at 'ome. It's 'ard on
us old folks when we're one too many; but the little mouths must be
filled, and my son, 'e said 'e didn't see they could keep me on the arf-
crown, with another child on the way; so I'm tramping to N-, to the
House; but it's a 'ard pinch, leavin' the little ones."
     I looked at him - a typical countryman, with white hair, mild blue
eyes, and a rosy, childish, unwrinkled face.
     "I'm eighty-four," he went on, "and terrible bad with the rheumatics
and my chest. Maybe it'll not be long before the Lord remembers me."
     The child crept close and put a sticky little hand confidingly into the
tired old palm. The two looked strangely alike, for the world seems
much the same to those who leave it behind as to those who have but
taken the first step on its circular pathway.
     "'Ook at my kitty," she said, pointing to the small creature in her lap.
Then, as the old man touched it with trembling fingers she went on -
"'Oo isn't my grandad; he's away in the sky, but I'll kiss 'oo."
     I worked on, hearing at intervals the old piping voice and the child-
treble, much of a note; and thinking of the blessings vouchsafed to the
simple old age which crowns a harmless working- life spent in the fields.
The two under the hedge had everything in common and were
boundlessly content together, the sting of the knowledge of good and
evil past for the one, and for the other still to come; while I stood on the
battlefield of the world, the flesh, and the devil, though, thank God, with
my face to the foe.
     The old man sat resting: I had promised him a lift with my friend
the driver of the flour-cart, and he was almost due when the child's

                               The Roadmender

grandmother came down the road.
    When she saw my other visitor she stood amazed.
    "What, Richard Hunton, that worked with my old man years ago up at
Ditton, whatever are you doin' all these miles from your own place?"
    "Is it Eliza Jakes?"
    He looked at her dazed, doubtful.
    "An' who else should it be? Where's your memory gone, Richard
Hunton, and you not such a great age either? Where are you stayin'?"
    Shame overcame him; his lips trembled, his mild blue eyes filled
with tears. I told the tale as I had heard it, and Mrs Jakes's indignation
was good to see.
    "Not keep you on 'alf a crown! Send you to the House! May the
Lord forgive them! You wouldn't eat no more than a fair-sized cat, and
not long for this world either, that's plain to see. No, Richard Hunton,
you don't go to the House while I'm above ground; it'd make my good
man turn to think of it. You'll come 'ome with me and the little 'un
there. I've my washin', and a bit put by for a rainy day, and a bed to
spare, and the Lord and the parson will see I don't come to want."
    She stopped breathless, her defensive motherhood in arms.
    The old man said quaveringly, in the pathetic, grudging phrase of the
poor, which veils their gratitude while it testifies their independence,
"Maybe I might as well." He rose with difficulty, picked up his bundle
and stick, the small child replaced the kitten in its basket, and thrust her
hand in her new friend's.
    "Then 'oo IS grandad tum back," she said.
    Mrs Jakes had been fumbling in her pocket, and extracted a penny,
which she pressed on me.
    "It's little enough, mister," she said.
    Then, as I tried to return it: "Nay, I've enough, and yours is poor
paid work."
    I hope I shall always be able to keep that penny; and as I watched the
three going down the dusty white road, with the child in the middle, I
thanked God for the Brotherhood of the Poor.

                              The Roadmender

                             CHAPTER IV

     YESTERDAY a funeral passed, from the work-house at N-, a quaint
sepulture without solemnities.        The rough, ungarnished coffin of
stained deal lay bare and unsightly on the floor of an old market- cart; a
woman sat beside, steadying it with her feet. The husband drove; and
the most depressed of the three was the horse, a broken- kneed, flea-bitten
grey. It was pathetic, this bringing home in death of the old father
whom, while he lived, they had been too poor to house; it was at no
small sacrifice that they had spared him that terror of old age, a pauper's
grave, and brought him to lie by his wife in our quiet churchyard. They
felt no emotion, this husband and wife, only a dull sense of filial duty
done, respectability preserved; and above and through all, the bitter but
necessary counting the cost of this last bed.
     It is strange how pagan many of us are in our beliefs. True, the
funeral libations have made way for the comfortable bake-meats; still, to
the large majority Death is Pluto, king of the dark Unknown whence no
traveller returns, rather than Azrael, brother and friend, lord of this
mansion of life. Strange how men shun him as he waits in the shadow,
watching our puny straining after immortality, sending his comrade
sleep to prepare us for himself.     When the hour strikes he comes - very
gently, very tenderly, if we will but have it so - folds the tired hands
together, takes the way-worn feet in his broad strong palm; and lifting us
in his wonderful arms he bears us swiftly down the valley and across the
waters of Remembrance.
     Very pleasant art thou, O Brother Death, thy love is wonderful,
passing the love of women.
     To-day I have lived in a whirl of dust. To-morrow is the great
annual Cattle Fair at E-, and through the long hot hours the beasts from
all the district round have streamed in broken procession along my road,
to change hands or to die. Surely the lordship over creation implies
wise and gentle rule for intelligent use, not the pursuit of a mere
                              The Roadmender

immediate end, without any thought of community in the great
sacrament of life.
    For the most part mystery has ceased for this working Western world,
and with it reverence. Coventry Patmore says: "God clothes Himself
actually and literally with His whole creation. Herbs take up and
assimilate minerals, beasts assimilate herbs, and God, in the Incarnation
and its proper Sacrament, assimilates us, who, says St Augustine, 'are
God's beasts.'" It is man in his blind self- seeking who separates woof
from weft in the living garment of God, and loses the more as he
neglects the outward and visible signs of a world-wide grace.
    In olden days the herd led his flock, going first in the post of danger
to defend the creatures he had weaned from their natural habits for his
various uses. Now that good relationship has ceased for us to exist,
man drives the beasts before him, means to his end, but with no harmony
between end and means. All day long the droves of sheep pass me on
their lame and patient way, no longer freely and instinctively following a
protector and forerunner, but DRIVEN, impelled by force and resistless
will - the same will which once went before without force. They are all
trimmed as much as possible to one pattern, and all make the same sad
plaint. It is a day on which to thank God for the unknown tongue.
The drover and his lad in dusty blue coats plod along stolidly, deaf and
blind to all but the way before them; no longer wielding the crook,
instrument of deliverance, or at most of gentle compulsion, but armed
with a heavy stick and mechanically dealing blows on the short thick
fleeces; without evil intent because without thought - it is the ritual of
the trade.
    Of all the poor dumb pilgrims of the road the bullocks are the most
terrible to see. They are not patient, but go most unwillingly with
lowered head and furtive sideways motion, in their eyes a horror of great
fear. The sleek cattle, knee deep in pasture, massed at the gate, and
stared mild-eyed and with inquiring bellow at the retreating drove; but
these passed without answer on to the Unknown, and for them it spelt
    Behind a squadron of sleek, well-fed cart-horses, formed in fours,

                              The Roadmender

with straw braid in mane and tail, came the ponies, for the most part a
merry company. Long strings of rusty, shaggy two-year-olds, unbroken,
unkempt, the short Down grass still sweet on their tongues; full of fun,
frolic, and wickedness, biting and pulling, casting longing eyes at the
hedgerows. The boys appear to recognise them as kindred spirits, and
are curiously forbearing and patient. Soon both ponies and boys vanish
in a white whirl, and a long line of carts, which had evidently waited for
the dust to subside, comes slowly up the incline. For the most part they
carry the pigs and fowls, carriage folk of the road. The latter are hot,
crowded, and dusty under the open netting; the former for the most part
cheerfully remonstrative.
     I drew a breath of relief as the noise of wheels died away and my
road sank into silence. The hedgerows are no longer green but white
and choked with dust, a sight to move good sister Rain to welcome tears.
The birds seem to have fled before the noisy confusion. I wonder
whether my snake has seen and smiled at the clumsy ruling of the lord
he so little heeds? I turned aside through the gate to plunge face and
hands into the cool of the sheltered grass that side the hedge, and then
rested my eyes on the stretch of green I had lacked all day. The rabbits
had apparently played and browsed unmindful of the stir, and were still
flirting their white tails along the hedgerows; a lark rose, another and
another, and I went back to my road. Peace still reigned, for the
shadows were lengthening, and there would be little more traffic for the
fair. I turned to my work, grateful for the stillness, and saw on the
white stretch of road a lone old man and a pig. Surely I knew that tall
figure in the quaint grey smock, surely I knew the face, furrowed like
nature's face in springtime, and crowned by a round, soft hat? And the
pig, the black pig walking decorously free? Ay, I knew them.
     In the early spring I took a whole holiday and a long tramp; and
towards afternoon, tired and thirsty, sought water at a little lonely
cottage whose windows peered and blinked under overhanging brows of
thatch. I had, not the water I asked for, but milk and a bowl of sweet
porridge for which I paid only thanks; and stayed for a chat with my
kindly hosts. They were a quaint old couple of the kind rarely met with

                              The Roadmender

nowadays. They enjoyed a little pension from the Squire and a garden
in which vegetables and flowers lived side by side in friendliest fashion.
Bees worked and sang over the thyme and marjoram, blooming early in
a sunny nook; and in a homely sty lived a solemn black pig, a pig with a
    It was no common utilitarian pig, but the honoured guest of the old
couple, and it knew it. A year before, their youngest and only surviving
child, then a man of five-and-twenty, had brought his mother the result
of his savings in the shape of a fine young pig: a week later he lay dead
of the typhoid that scourged Maidstone. Hence the pig was sacred,
cared for and loved by this Darby and Joan.
    "Ee be mos' like a child to me and the mother, an' mos' as sensible as
a Christian, ee be," the old man had said; and I could hardly credit my
eyes when I saw the tall bent figure side by side with the black pig,
coming along my road on such a day.
    I hailed the old man, and both turned aside; but he gazed at me
without remembrance.
    I spoke of the pig and its history. He nodded wearily. "Ay, ay, lad,
you've got it; 'tis poor Dick's pig right enow."
    "But you're never going to take it to E - ?"
    "Ay, but I be, and comin' back alone, if the Lord be marciful. The
missus has been terrible bad this two mouths and more; Squire's in
foreign parts; and food-stuffs such as the old woman wants is hard
buying for poor folks. The stocking's empty, now 'tis the pig must go,
and I believe he'd be glad for to do the missus a turn; she were terrible
good to him, were the missus, and fond, too. I dursn't tell her he was to
go; she'd sooner starve than lose poor Dick's pig. Well, we'd best be
movin'; 'tis a fairish step."
    The pig followed comprehending and docile, and as the quaint couple
passed from sight I thought I heard Brother Death stir in the shadow.
He is a strong angel and of great pity.

                                The Roadmender

                               CHAPTER V

      THERE is always a little fire of wood on the open hearth in the
kitchen when I get home at night; the old lady says it is "company" for
her, and sits in the lonely twilight, her knotted hands lying quiet on her
lap, her listening eyes fixed on the burning sticks.
      I wonder sometimes whether she hears music in the leap and lick of
the fiery tongues, music such as he of Bayreuth draws from the violins
till the hot energy of the fire spirit is on us, embodied in sound.
      Surely she hears some voice, that lonely old woman on whom is set
the seal of great silence?
      It is a great truth tenderly said that God builds the nest for the blind
bird; and may it not be that He opens closed eyes and unstops deaf ears
to sights and sounds from which others by these very senses are
      Here the best of us see through a mist of tears men as trees walking;
it is only in the land which is very far off and yet very near that we shall
have fulness of sight and see the King in His beauty; and I cannot think
that any listening ears listen in vain.
      The coppice at our back is full of birds, for it is far from the road and
they nest there undisturbed year after year. Through the still night I
heard the nightingales calling, calling, until I could bear it no longer and
went softly out into the luminous dark.
      The little wood was manifold with sound, I heard my little brothers
who move by night rustling in grass and tree. A hedgehog crossed my
path with a dull squeak, the bats shrilled high to the stars, a white owl
swept past me crying his hunting note, a beetle boomed suddenly in my
face; and above and through it all the nightingales sang - and sang!
      The night wind bent the listening trees, and the stars yearned
earthward to hear the song of deathless love. Louder and louder the
wonderful notes rose and fell in a passion of melody; and then sank to
rest on that low thrilling call which it is said Death once heard, and
stayed his hand.
                                 The Roadmender

    They will scarcely sing again this year, these nightingales, for they
are late on the wing as it is. It seems as if on such nights they sang as
the swan sings, knowing it to be the last time - with the lavish note of
one who bids an eternal farewell.
    At last there was silence. Sitting under the big beech tree, the giant
of the coppice, I rested my tired self in the lap of mother earth, breathed
of her breath and listened to her voice in the quickening silence until my
flesh came again as the flesh of a little child, for it is true recreation to sit
at the footstool of God wrapped in a fold of His living robe, the while
night smoothes our tired face with her healing hands.
    The grey dawn awoke and stole with trailing robes across earth's
floor. At her footsteps the birds roused from sleep and cried a greeting;
the sky flushed and paled conscious of coming splendour; and overhead
a file of swans passed with broad strong flight to the reeded waters of
the sequestered pool.
    Another hour of silence while the light throbbed and flamed in the
east; then the larks rose harmonious from a neighbouring field, the
rabbits scurried with ears alert to their morning meal, the day had begun.
    I passed through the coppice and out into the fields beyond. The
dew lay heavy on leaf and blade and gossamer, a cool fresh wind swept
clear over dale and down from the sea, and the clover field rippled like a
silvery lake in the breeze.
    There is something inexpressibly beautiful in the unused day,
something beautiful in the fact that it is still untouched, unsoiled; and
town and country share alike in this loveliness. At half-past three on a
June morning even London has not assumed her responsibilities, but
smiles and glows lighthearted and smokeless under the caresses of the
morning sun.
    Five o'clock. The bell rings out crisp and clear from the monastery
where the Bedesmen of St Hugh watch and pray for the souls on this
labouring forgetful earth. Every hour the note of comfort and warning
cries across the land, tells the Sanctus, the Angelus, and the Hours of the
Passion, and calls to remembrance and prayer.
    When the wind is north, the sound carries as far as my road, and

                               The Roadmender

companies me through the day; and if to His dumb children God in His
mercy reckons work as prayer, most certainly those who have forged
through the ages an unbroken chain of supplication and thanksgiving
will be counted among the stalwart labourers of the house of the Lord.
    Sun and bell together are my only clock: it is time for my water
drawing; and gathering a pile of mushrooms, children of the night, I
hasten home.
    The cottage is dear to me in its quaint untidiness and want of
rectitude, dear because we are to be its last denizens, last of the long line
of toilers who have sweated and sown that others might reap, and have
passed away leaving no trace.
    I once saw a tall cross in a seaboard churchyard, inscribed, "To the
memory of the unknown dead who have perished in these waters."
There might be one in every village sleeping-place to the unhonoured
many who made fruitful the land with sweat and tears.                 It is a
consolation to think that when we look back on this stretch of life's road
from beyond the first milestone, which, it is instructive to remember, is
always a grave, we may hope to see the work of this world with open
eyes, and to judge of it with a due sense of proportion.
    A bee with laden honey-bag hummed and buzzed in the hedge as I got
ready for work, importuning the flowers for that which he could not
carry, and finally giving up the attempt in despair fell asleep on a
buttercup, the best place for his weary little velvet body. In five
minutes - they may have been five hours to him - he awoke a new bee,
sensible and clear-sighted, and flew blithely away to the hive with his
sufficiency - an example this weary world would be wise to follow.
    My road has been lonely to-day. A parson came by in the afternoon,
a stranger in the neighbourhood, for he asked his way. He talked
awhile, and with kindly rebuke said it was sad to see a man of my
education brought so low, which shows how the outside appearance may
mislead the prejudiced observer. "Was it misfortune?" "Nay, the best
of good luck," I answered, gaily.
    The good man with beautiful readiness sat down on a heap of stones
and bade me say on. "Read me a sermon in stone," he said, simply;

                              The Roadmender

and I stayed my hand to read.
    He listened with courteous intelligence.
    "You hold a roadmender has a vocation?" he asked.
    "As the monk or the artist, for, like both, he is universal. The world
is his home; he serves all men alike, ay, and for him the beasts have
equal honour with the men. His soul is 'bound up in the bundle of life'
with all other souls, he sees his father, his mother, his brethren in the
children of the road. For him there is nothing unclean, nothing
common; the very stones cry out that they serve."
    Parson nodded his head.
    "It is all true," he said; "beautifully true. But need such a view of
life necessitate the work of roadmending? Surely all men should be
    O wise parson, so to read the lesson of the road!
    "It is true," I answered; "but some of us find our salvation in the
actual work, and earn our bread better in this than in any other way. No
man is dependent on our earning, all men on our work. We are 'rich
beyond the dreams of avarice' because we have all that we need, and yet
we taste the life and poverty of the very poor. We are, if you will,
uncloistered monks, preaching friars who speak not with the tongue,
disciples who hear the wise words of a silent master."
    "Robert Louis Stevenson was a roadmender," said the wise parson.
    "Ay, and with more than his pen," I answered. "I wonder was he
ever so truly great, so entirely the man we know and love, as when he
inspired the chiefs to make a highway in the wilderness. Surely no
more fitting monument could exist to his memory than the Road of
Gratitude, cut, laid, and kept by the pure-blooded tribe kings of Samoa."
    Parson nodded.
    "He knew that the people who make no roads are ruled out from
intelligent participation in the world's brotherhood." He filled his pipe,
thinking the while, then he held out his pouch to me.
    "Try some of this baccy," he said; "Sherwood of Magdalen sent it me
from some outlandish place."
    I accepted gratefully. It was such tobacco as falls to the lot of few

                             The Roadmender

    He rose to go.
    "I wish I could come and break stones," he said, a little wistfully.
    "Nay," said I, "few men have such weary roadmending as yours, and
perhaps you need my road less than most men, and less than most
    We shook hands, and he went down the road and out of my life.
    He little guessed that I knew Sherwood, ay, and knew him too, for
had not Sherwood told me of the man he delighted to honour.
    Ah, well! I am no Browning Junior, and Sherwood's name is not

                               The Roadmender

                             CHAPTER VI

     A WHILE ago I took a holiday; mouched, played truant from my road.
Jem the waggoner hailed me as he passed - he was going to the mill -
would I ride with him and come back atop of the full sacks?
     I hid my hammer in the hedge, climbed into the great waggon white
and fragrant with the clean sweet meal, and flung myself down on the
empty flour bags. The looped-back tarpaulin framed the long vista of
my road with the downs beyond; and I lay in the cool dark, caressed by
the fresh breeze in its thoroughfare, soothed by the strong monotonous
tramp of the great grey team and the music of the jangling harness.
     Jem walked at the leaders' heads; it is his rule when the waggon is
empty, a rule no "company" will make him break. At first I regretted it,
but soon discovered I learnt to know him better so, as he plodded along,
his thickset figure slightly bent, his hands in his pockets, his whip under
one arm, whistling hymn tunes in a low minor, while the great horses
answered to his voice without touch of lash or guiding rein.
     I lay as in a blissful dream and watched my road unfold. The sun
set the pine-boles aflare where the hedge is sparse, and stretched the
long shadows of the besom poplars in slanting bars across the white
highway; the roadside gardens smiled friendly with their trim-cut laurels
and rows of stately sunflowers - a seemly proximity this, Daphne and
Clytie, sisters in experience, wrapped in the warm caress of the god
whose wooing they need no longer fear. Here and there we passed
little groups of women and children off to work in the early cornfields,
and Jem paused in his fond repetition of "The Lord my pasture shall
prepare" to give them good-day.
     It is like Life, this travelling backwards - that which has been, alone
visible - like Life, which is after all, retrospective with a steady moving
on into the Unknown, Unseen, until Faith is lost in Sight and experience
is no longer the touchstone of humanity. The face of the son of Adam
is set on the road his brothers have travelled, marking their landmarks,
tracing their journeyings; but with the eyes of a child of God he looks
                               The Roadmender

forward, straining to catch a glimpse of the jewelled walls of his future
home, the city "Eternal in the Heavens."
    Presently we left my road for the deep shade of a narrow country
way where the great oaks and beeches meet overhead and no hedge-
clipper sets his hand to stay nature's profusion; and so by pleasant lanes
scarce the waggon's width across, now shady, now sunny, here bordered
by thickset coverts, there giving on fruitful fields, we came at length to
the mill.
    I left Jem to his business with the miller and wandered down the
flowery meadow to listen to the merry clack of the stream and the voice
of the waters on the weir. The great wheel was at rest, as I love best to
see it in the later afternoon; the splash and churn of the water belong
rather to the morning hours. It is the chief mistake we make in
portioning out our day that we banish rest to the night-time, which is for
sleep and recreating, instead of setting apart the later afternoon and quiet
twilight hours for the stretching of weary limbs and repose of tired mind
after a day's toil that should begin and end at five.
    The little stone bridge over the mill-stream is almost on a level with
the clear running water, and I lay there and gazed at the huge wheel
which, under multitudinous forms and uses, is one of the world's
wonders, because one of the few things we imitative children have not
learnt from nature. Is it perchance a memory out of that past when
Adam walked clear-eyed in Paradise and talked with the Lord in the cool
of the day? Did he see then the flaming wheels instinct with service,
wondrous messengers of the Most High vouchsafed in vision to the later
    Maybe he did, and going forth from before the avenging sword of his
own forging to the bitterness of an accursed earth, took with him this
bright memory of perfect, ceaseless service, and so fashioned our
labouring wheel - pathetic link with the time of his innocency. It is one
of many unanswered questions, good to ask because it has no answer,
only the suggestion of a train of thought: perhaps we are never so
receptive as when with folded hands we say simply, "This is a great
mystery." I watched and wondered until Jem called, and I had to leave

                                 The Roadmender

the rippling weir and the water's side, and the wheel with its untold
    The miller's wife gave me tea and a crust of home-made bread, and
the miller's little maid sat on my knee while I told the sad tale of a little
pink cloud separated from its parents and teazed and hunted by
mischievous little airs. To-morrow, if I mistake not, her garden will be
wet with its tears, and, let us hope, point a moral; for the tale had its
origin in a frenzied chicken driven from the side of an anxious mother,
and pursued by a sturdy, relentless figure in a white sun-bonnet.
    The little maid trotted off, greatly sobered, to look somewhat
prematurely for the cloud's tears; and I climbed to my place at the top of
the piled-up sacks, and thence watched twilight pass to starlight through
my narrow peep, and, so watching, slept until Jem's voice hailed me
from Dreamland, and I went, only half awake, across the dark fields
    Autumn is here and it is already late. He has painted the hedges
russet and gold, scarlet and black, and a tangle of grey; now he has damp
brown leaves in his hair and frost in his finger-tips.
    It is a season of contrasts; at first all is stir and bustle, the ingathering
of man and beast; barn and rickyard stand filled with golden treasure; at
the farm the sound of threshing; in wood and copse the squirrels busied
'twixt tree and storehouse, while the ripe nuts fall with thud of thunder
rain. When the harvesting is over, the fruit gathered, the last rick
thatched, there comes a pause. Earth strips off her bright colours and
shows a bare and furrowed face; the dead leaves fall gently and sadly
through the calm, sweet air; grey mists drape the fields and hedges.
The migratory birds have left, save a few late swallows; and as I sit at
work in the soft, still rain, I can hear the blackbird's melancholy trill and
the thin pipe of the redbreast's winter song - the air is full of the sound of
    Forethought and preparation for the Future which shall be; farewell,
because of the Future which may never be - for us; "Man, thou hast
goods laid up for many years, and it is well; but, remember, this night
THY soul may be required"; is the unvoiced lesson of autumn. There is

                              The Roadmender

growing up among us a great fear; it stares at us white, wide-eyed, from
the faces of men and women alike - the fear of pain, mental and bodily
pain. For the last twenty years we have waged war with suffering - a
noble war when fought in the interest of the many, but fraught with great
danger to each individual man. It is the fear which should not be,
rather than the 'hope which is in us,' that leads men in these days to
drape Death in a flowery mantle, to lay stress on the shortness of parting,
the speedy reunion, to postpone their good-byes until the last moment, or
avoid saying them altogether; and this fear is a poor, ignoble thing,
unworthy of those who are as gods, knowing good and evil. We are
still paying the price of that knowledge; suffering in both kinds is a
substantial part of it, and brings its own healing. Let us pay like men,
our face to the open heaven, neither whimpering like children in the dark,
nor lulled to unnecessary oblivion by some lethal drug; for it is manly,
not morbid, to dare to taste the pungent savour of pain, the lingering
sadness of farewell which emphasises the aftermath of life; it should
have its place in all our preparation as a part of our inheritance we dare
not be without.
     There is an old couple in our village who are past work. The
married daughter has made shift to take her mother and the parish half-
crown, but there is neither room nor food for the father, and he must go
to N-. If husband and wife went together, they would be separated at
the workhouse door. The parting had to come; it came yesterday. I
saw them stumbling lamely down the road on their last journey together,
walking side by side without touch or speech, seeing and heeding
nothing but a blank future. As they passed me the old man said gruffly,
"'Tis far eno'; better be gettin' back"; but the woman shook her head, and
they breasted the hill together. At the top they paused, shook hands, and
separated; one went on, the other turned back; and as the old woman
limped blindly by I turned away, for there are sights a man dare not look
upon. She passed; and I heard a child's shrill voice say, "I come to look
for you, gran"; and I thanked God that there need be no utter loneliness
in the world while it holds a little child.
     Now it is my turn, and I must leave the wayside to serve in the

                              The Roadmender

sheepfolds during the winter months. It is scarcely a farewell, for my
road is ubiquitous, eternal; there are green ways in Paradise and golden
streets in the beautiful City of God. Nevertheless, my heart is heavy;
for, viewed by the light of the waning year, roadmending seems a great
and wonderful work which I have poorly conceived of and meanly
performed: yet I have learnt to understand dimly the truths of three
great paradoxes - the blessing of a curse, the voice of silence, the
companionship of solitude - and so take my leave of this stretch of road,
and of you who have fared along the white highway through the medium
of a printed page.
    Farewell! It is a roadmender's word; I cry you Godspeed to the
next milestone - and beyond.

     The Roadmender


                              The Roadmender

                              CHAPTER I

    I AM no longer a roadmender; the stretch of white highway which
leads to the end of the world will know me no more; the fields and
hedgerows, grass and leaf stiff with the crisp rime of winter's breath, lie
beyond my horizon; the ewes in the folding, their mysterious eyes quick
with the consciousness of coming motherhood, answer another's voice
and hand; while I lie here, not in the lonely companionship of my
expectations, but where the shadow is bright with kindly faces and
gentle hands, until one kinder and gentler still carries me down the
stairway into the larger room.
    But now the veil was held aside and one went by crowned with the
majesty of years, wearing the ermine of an unstained rule, the purple of
her people's loyalty. Nations stood with bated breath to see her pass in
the starlit mist of her children's tears; a monarch - greatest of her time;
an empress - conquered men called mother; a woman - Englishmen cried
queen; still the crowned captive of her people's heart - the prisoner of
    The night-goers passed under my window in silence, neither song nor
shout broke the welcome dark; next morning the workmen who went by
were strangely quiet.
      Did they think of how that legend would disappear, and of all it
meant, as they paid their pennies at the coffee-stall? The feet rarely
know the true value and work of the head; but all Englishmen have been
and will be quick to acknowledge and revere Victoria by the grace of
God a wise woman, a great and loving mother.
    Years ago, I, standing at a level crossing, saw her pass. The train
slowed down and she caught sight of the gatekeeper's little girl who had
climbed the barrier. Such a smile as she gave her! And then I caught a
quick startled gesture as she slipped from my vision; I thought
afterwards it was that she feared the child might fall. Mother first, then
Queen; even so rest came to her - not in one of the royal palaces, but in
                              The Roadmender

her own home, surrounded by the immediate circle of her nearest and
dearest, while the world kept watch and ward.
    I, a shy lover of the fields and woods, longed always, should a
painless passing be vouchsafed me, to make my bed on the fragrant pine
needles in the aloneness of a great forest; to lie once again as I had lain
many a time, bathed in the bitter sweetness of the sun-blessed pines,
lapped in the manifold silence; my ear attuned to the wind of Heaven
with its call from the Cities of Peace. In sterner mood, when Love's
hand held a scourge, I craved rather the stress of the moorland with its
bleaker mind imperative of sacrifice. To rest again under the lee of
Rippon Tor swept by the strong peat-smelling breeze; to stare untired at
the long cloud- shadowed reaches, and watch the mist-wraiths huddle and
shrink     round the stones of blood; until my sacrifice too was
accomplished, and my soul had fled. A wild waste moor; a vast void
sky; and naught between heaven and earth but man, his sin-glazed eyes
seeking afar the distant light of his own heart.
    With years came counsels more profound, and the knowledge that man
was no mere dweller in the woods to follow the footsteps of the piping
god, but an integral part of an organised whole, in which Pan too has his
fulfilment. The wise Venetians knew; and read pantheism into
Christianity when they set these words round Ezekiel's living creatures
in the altar vault of St Mark's:-
      "Thou shalt have none other gods but me." If man had been able to
keep this one commandment perfectly the other nine would never have
been written; instead he has comprehensively disregarded it, and perhaps
never more than now in the twentieth century. Ah, well! this world, in
spite of all its sinning, is still the Garden of Eden where the Lord walked
with man, not in the cool of evening, but in the heat and stress of the
immediate working day. There is no angel now with flaming sword to
keep the way of the Tree of Life, but tapers alight morning by morning
in the Hostel of God to point us to it; and we, who are as gods knowing
good and evil, partake of that fruit "whereof whoso eateth shall never

                                The Roadmender

die"; the greatest gift or the most awful penalty - Eternal Life.
     I then, with my craving for tree and sky, held that a great capital with
its stir of life and death, of toil and strife and pleasure, was an ill place
for a sick man to wait in; a place to shrink from as a child shrinks from
the rude blow of one out of authority. Yet here, far from moor and
forest, hillside and hedgerow, in the family sitting-room of the English-
speaking peoples, the London much misunderstood, I find the fulfilment
by antithesis of all desire. For the loneliness of the moorland, there is
the warmth and companionship of London's swift beating heart. For
silence there is sound - the sound and stir of service - for the most part
far in excess of its earthly equivalent. Against the fragrant incense of
the pines I set the honest sweat of the man whose lifetime is the measure
of his working day. "He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen,
how shall he love God whom he hath not seen?" wrote Blessed John,
who himself loved so much that he beheld the Lamb as it had been slain
from the beginning when Adam fell, and the City of God with light most
precious. The burden of corporate sin, the sword of corporate sorrow,
the joy of corporate righteousness; thus we become citizens in the
Kingdom of God, and companions of all his creatures. "It is not good
that the man should be alone," said the Lord God.
     I live now as it were in two worlds, the world of sight, and the world
of sound; and they scarcely ever touch each other. I hear the grind of
heavy traffic, the struggle of horses on the frost- breathed ground, the
decorous jolt of omnibuses, the jangle of cab bells, the sharp warning of
bicycles at the corner, the swift rattle of costers' carts as they go south at
night with their shouting, goading crew. All these things I hear, and
more; but I see no road, only the silent river of my heart with its tale of
wonder and years, and the white beat of seagulls' wings in strong
inquiring flight.
     Sometimes there is naught to see on the waterway but a solitary
black hull, a very Stygian ferry-boat, manned by a solitary figure, and
moving slowly up under the impulse of the far-reaching sweeps.           Then
the great barges pass with their coffined treasure, drawn by a small self-
righteous steam-tug. Later, lightened of their load, and waiting on

                              The Roadmender

wind and tide, I see them swooping by like birds set free; tawny sails
that mind me of red-roofed Whitby with its northern fleet; black sails as
of some heedless Theseus; white sails that sweep out of the morning
mist "like restless gossameres." They make the bridge, which is just
within my vision, and then away past Westminster and Blackfriars where
St Paul's great dome lifts the cross high over a self-seeking city; past
Southwark where England's poet illuminates in the scroll of divine
wisdom the sign of the Tabard; past the Tower with its haunting ghosts
of history; past Greenwich, fairy city, caught in the meshes of riverside
mist; and then the salt and speer of the sea, the companying with great
ships, the fresh burden.
    At night I see them again, silent, mysterious; searching the darkness
with unwinking yellow stare, led by a great green light.     They creep up
under the bridge which spans the river with its watching eyes, and
vanish, crying back a warning note as they make the upper reach, or
strident hail, as a chain of kindred phantoms passes, ploughing a
contrary tide.
    Throughout the long watches of the night I follow them; and in the
early morning they slide by, their eyes pale in the twilight; while the
stars flicker and fade, and the gas lamps die down into a dull yellow
blotch against the glory and glow of a new day.

                               The Roadmender

                              CHAPTER II

    FEBRUARY is here, February fill-dyke; the month of purification, of
cleansing rains and pulsing bounding streams, and white mist clinging
insistent to field and hedgerow so that when her veil is withdrawn
greenness may make us glad.
    The river has been uniformly grey of late, with no wind to ruffle its
surface or to speed the barges dropping slowly and sullenly down with
the tide through a blurring haze. I watched one yesterday, its useless
sails half-furled and no sign of life save the man at the helm. It drifted
stealthily past, and a little behind, flying low, came a solitary seagull,
grey as the river's haze - a following bird.
    Once again I lay on my back in the bottom of the tarry old fishing
smack, blue sky above and no sound but the knock, knock of the waves,
and the thud and curl of falling foam as the old boat's blunt nose
breasted the coming sea. Then Daddy Whiddon spoke.
    "A follerin' burrd," he said.
    I got up, and looked across the blue field we were ploughing into
white furrows. Far away a tiny sail scarred the great solitude, and
astern came a gull flying slowly close to the water's breast.
    Daddy Whiddon waved his pipe towards it.
    "A follerin' burrd," he said, again; and again I waited; questions were
not grateful to him.
    "There be a carpse there, sure enough, a carpse driftin' and shiftin' on
the floor of the sea. There be those as can't rest, poor sawls, and her'll
be mun, her'll be mun, and the sperrit of her is with the burrd."
    The clumsy boom swung across as we changed our course, and the
water ran from us in smooth reaches on either side: the bird flew
steadily on.
    "What will the spirit do?" I said.
    The old man looked at me gravely.
    "Her'll rest in the Lard's time, in the Lard's gude time - but now her'll
just be follerin' on with the burrd."
                               The Roadmender

    The gull was flying close to us now, and a cold wind swept the
sunny sea. I shivered: Daddy looked at me curiously.
    "There be reason enough to be cawld if us did but knaw it, but I he
mos' used to 'em, poor sawls." He shaded his keen old blue eyes, and
looked away across the water. His face kindled. "There be a skule
comin', and by my sawl 'tis mackerel they be drivin'."
    I watched eagerly, and saw the dark line rise and fall in the trough of
the sea, and, away behind, the stir and rush of tumbling porpoises as
they chased their prey.
    Again we changed our tack, and each taking an oar, pulled lustily for
the beach.
    "Please God her'll break inshore," said Daddy Whiddon; and he
shouted the news to the idle waiting men who hailed us.
    In a moment all was stir, for the fishing had been slack. Two boats
put out with the lithe brown seine. The dark line had turned, but the
school was still behind, churning the water in clumsy haste; they were
coming in.
    Then the brit broke in silvery leaping waves on the shelving beach.
The threefold hunt was over; the porpoises turned out to sea in search of
fresh quarry; and the seine, dragged by ready hands, came slowly,
stubbornly in with its quivering treasure of fish. They had sought a
haven and found none; the brit lay dying in flickering iridescent heaps as
the bare-legged babies of the village gathered them up; and far away
over the water I saw a single grey speck; it was the following bird.
      The curtain of river haze falls back; barge and bird are alike gone,
and the lamplighter has lit the first gas-lamp on the far side of the bridge.
Every night I watch him come, his progress marked by the great yellow
eyes that wake the dark. Sometimes he walks quickly; sometimes he
loiters on the bridge to chat, or stare at the dark water; but he always
comes, leaving his watchful deterrent train behind him to police the
    Once Demeter in the black anguish of her desolation searched for
lost Persephone by the light of Hecate's torch; and searching all in vain,
spurned beneath her empty feet an earth barren of her smile; froze with

                                The Roadmender

set brows the merry brooks and streams; and smote forest, and plain, and
fruitful field, with the breath of her last despair, until even Iambe's
laughing jest was still. And then when the desolation was complete,
across the wasted valley where the starveling cattle scarcely longed to
browse, came the dreadful chariot - and Persephone. The day of the
prisoner of Hades had dawned; and as the sun flamed slowly up to light
her thwarted eyes the world sprang into blossom at her feet.
    We can never be too Pagan when we are truly Christian, and the old
myths are eternal truths held fast in the Church's net. Prometheus
fetched fire from Heaven, to be slain forever in the fetching; and lo, a
Greater than Prometheus came to fire the cresset of the Cross. Demeter
waits now patiently enough. Persephone waits, too, in the faith of the
sun she cannot see: and every lamp lit carries on the crusade which has
for its goal a sunless, moonless, city whose light is the Light of the
      "Lume e lassu, che visibile face lo creatore a quella creatura, che solo
in lui vedere ha la sua pace."
      Immediately outside my window is a lime tree - a little black
skeleton of abundant branches - in which sparrows congregate to chirp
and bicker. Farther away I have a glimpse of graceful planes, children
of moonlight and mist; their dainty robes, still more or less unsullied,
gleam ghostly in the gaslight athwart the dark. They make a brave
show even in winter with their feathery branches and swinging tassels,
whereas my little tree stands stark and uncompromising, with its horde
of sooty sparrows cockney to the last tail feather, and a pathetic inability
to look anything but black. Rain comes with strong caressing fingers,
and the branches seem no whit the cleaner for her care; but then their
glistening blackness mirrors back the succeeding sunlight, as a muddy
pavement will sometimes lap our feet in a sea of gold. The little wet
sparrows are for the moment equally transformed, for the sun turns their
dun-coloured coats to a ruddy bronze, and cries Chrysostom as it kisses
each shiny beak. They are dumb Chrysostoms; but they preach a
golden gospel, for the sparrows are to London what the rainbow was to
eight saved souls out of a waste of waters - a perpetual sign of the

                              The Roadmender

remembering mercies of God.
    Last night there was a sudden clatter of hoofs, a shout, and then
silence. A runaway cab-horse, a dark night, a wide crossing, and a
heavy burden: so death came to a poor woman. People from the
house went out to help; and I heard of her, the centre of an unknowing
curious crowd, as she lay bonnetless in the mud of the road, her head on
the kerb. A rude but painless death: the misery lay in her life; for this
woman - worn, white-haired, and wrinkled - had but fifty years to set
against such a condition. The policeman reported her respectable,
hard-working, living apart from her husband with a sister; but although
they shared rooms, they "did not speak," and the sister refused all
responsibility; so the parish buried the dead woman, and thus ended an
uneventful tragedy.
    Was it her own fault? If so, the greater pathos. The lonely souls
that hold out timid hands to an unheeding world have their meed of
interior comfort even here, while the sons of consolation wait on the
thresh-hold for their footfall: but God help the soul that bars its own
door! It is kicking against the pricks of Divine ordinance, the
ordinance of a triune God; whether it be the dweller in crowded street or
tenement who is proud to say, "I keep myself to myself," or Seneca
writing in pitiful complacency, "Whenever I have gone among men, I
have returned home less of a man." Whatever the next world holds in
store, we are bidden in this to seek and serve God in our fellow-men,
and in the creatures of His making whom He calls by name.
    It was once my privilege to know an old organ-grinder named
Gawdine. He was a hard swearer, a hard drinker, a hard liver, and he
fortified himself body and soul against the world: he even drank alone,
which is an evil sign.
    One day to Gawdine sober came a little dirty child, who clung to his
empty trouser leg - he had lost a limb years before - with a persistent
unintelligible request. He shook the little chap off with a blow and a
curse; and the child was trotting dismally away, when it suddenly turned,
ran back, and held up a dirty face for a kiss.
    Two days later Gawdine fell under a passing dray which inflicted

                              The Roadmender

terrible internal injuries on him. They patched him up in hospital, and
he went back to his organ-grinding, taking with him two friends - a pain
which fell suddenly upon him to rack and rend with an anguish of
crucifixion, and the memory of a child's upturned face. Outwardly he
was the same save that he changed the tunes of his organ, out of long-
hoarded savings, for the jigs and reels which children hold dear, and
stood patiently playing them in child-crowded alleys, where pennies are
not as plentiful as elsewhere.
    He continued to drink; it did not come within his new code to stop,
since he could "carry his liquor well;" but he rarely, if ever, swore. He
told me this tale through the throes of his anguish as he lay crouched on
a mattress on the floor; and as the grip of the pain took him he tore and
bit at his hands until they were maimed and bleeding, to keep the ready
curses off his lips.
    He told the story, but he gave no reason, offered no explanation: he
has been dead now many a year, and thus would I write his epitaph:-
    He saw the face of a little child and looked on God.

                               The Roadmender

                             CHAPTER III

     "TWO began, in a low voice, 'Why, the fact is, you see, Miss, this
here ought to have been a RED rose-tree, and we put a white one in by
     As I look round this room I feel sure Two, and Five, and Seven, have
all been at work on it, and made no mistakes, for round the walls runs a
frieze of squat standard rose-trees, red as red can be, and just like those
that Alice saw in the Queen's garden. In between them are Chaucer's
name-children, prim little daisies, peering wideawake from green grass.
This same grass has a history which I have heard. In the original
stencil for the frieze it was purely conventional like the rest, and met in
spikey curves round each tree; the painter, however, who was doing the
work, was a lover of the fields; and feeling that such grass was a travesty,
he added on his own account dainty little tussocks, and softened the
hard line into a tufted carpet, the grass growing irregularly, bent at will
by the wind.
     The result from the standpoint of conventional art is indeed
disastrous; but my sympathy and gratitude are with the painter. I see,
as he saw, the far-reaching robe of living ineffable green, of whose
brilliance the eye never has too much, and in whose weft no two threads
are alike; and shrink as he did from the conventionalising of that
windswept glory.
     The sea has its crested waves of recognisable form; the river its eddy
and swirl and separate vortices; but the grass! The wind bloweth where
it listeth and the grass bows as the wind blows - "thou canst not tell
whither it goeth." It takes no pattern, it obeys no recognised law; it is
like a beautiful creature of a thousand wayward moods, and its voice is
like nothing else in the wide world. It bids you rest and bury your tired
face in the green coolness, and breathe of its breath and of the breath of
the good earth from which man was taken and to which he will one day
return.     Then, if you lend your ear and are silent minded, you may hear
wondrous things of the deep places of the earth; of life in mineral and
                                The Roadmender

stone as well as in pulsing sap; of a green world as the stars saw it before
man trod it under foot - of the emerald which has its place with the rest
in the City of God.
       "What if earth Be but the shadow of heaven, and things therein, Each
to each other like, more than on earth to thought?"
       It is a natural part of civilisation's lust of re-arrangement that we
should be so ready to conventionalise the beauty of this world into
decorative patterns for our pilgrim tents. It is a phase, and will melt
into other phases; but it tends to the increase of artificiality, and exists
not only in art but in everything. It is no new thing for jaded sentiment
to crave the spur of the unnatural, to prefer the clever imitation, to live in
a Devachan where the surroundings appear that which we would have
them to be; but it is an interesting record of the pulse of the present day
that 'An Englishwoman's Love Letters' should have taken society by
storm in the way it certainly has.
     It is a delightful book to leave about, with its vellum binding, dainty
ribbons, and the hallmark of a great publisher's name. But when we
seek within we find love with its thousand voices and wayward moods,
its shy graces and seemly reticences, love which has its throne and robe
of state as well as the garment of the beggar maid, love which is before
time was, which knew the world when the stars took up their courses,
presented to us in gushing outpourings, the appropriate language of a
woman's heart to the boor she delights to honour.
     "It is woman who is the glory of man," says the author of 'The House
of Wisdom and Love,' "REGINA MUNDI, greater, because so far the
less; and man is her head, but only as he serves his queen." Set this
sober aphorism against the school girl love-making which kisses a man's
feet and gaily refuses him the barren honour of having loved her first.
     There is scant need for the apologia which precedes the letters; a few
pages dispels the fear that we are prying into another's soul. As for the
authorship, there is a woman's influence, an artist's poorly concealed
bias in the foreign letters; and for the rest a man's blunders - so much
easier to see in another than to avoid oneself - writ large from cover to
cover.         King Cophetua, who sends                  "profoundly grateful

                                The Roadmender

remembrances," has most surely written the letters he would wish to
    "Mrs Meynell!" cries one reviewer, triumphantly. Nay, the saints
be good to us, what has Mrs Meynell in common with the
"Englishwoman's" language, style, or most unconvincing passion? Men
can write as from a woman's heart when they are minded to do so in
desperate earnestness - there is Clarissa Harlowe and Stevenson's Kirstie,
and many more to prove it; but when a man writes as the author of the
"Love Letters" writes, I feel, as did the painter of the frieze, that pattern-
making has gone too far and included that which, like the grass, should
be spared such a convention.
    "I quite agree with you," said the Duchess, "and the moral of that is -
'Be what you would seem to be' - or, if you'd like to put it more simply -
'never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to
others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than
what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.'"
And so by way of the Queen's garden I come back to my room again.
    My heart's affections are still centred on my old attic, with boarded
floor and white-washed walls, where the sun blazoned a frieze of red and
gold until he travelled too far towards the north, the moon streamed in to
paint the trees in inky wavering shadows, and the stars flashed their
glory to me across the years. But now sun and moon greet me only
indirectly, and under the red roses hang pictures, some of them the dear
companions of my days.           Opposite me is the Arundel print of the
Presentation, painted by the gentle "Brother of the Angels." Priest
Simeon, a stately figure in green and gold, great with prophecy, gazes
adoringly at the Bambino he holds with fatherly care. Our Lady, in
robe of red and veil of shadowed purple, is instinct with light despite the
sombre colouring, as she stretches out hungering, awe-struck hands for
her soul's delight. St Joseph, dignified guardian and servitor, stands
behind, holding the Sacrifice of the Poor to redeem the First-begotten.
    St Peter Martyr and the Dominican nun, gazing in rapt contemplation
at the scene, are not one whit surprised to find themselves in the
presence of eternal mysteries. In the Entombment, which hangs on the

                              The Roadmender

opposite wall, St Dominic comes round the corner full of grievous
amaze and tenderest sympathy, but with no sense of shock or intrusion,
for was he not "famigliar di Cristo"? And so he takes it all in; the stone
bed empty and waiting; the Beloved cradled for the last time on His
mother's knees to be washed, lapped round, and laid to rest as if He were
again the Babe of Bethlehem. He sees the Magdalen anointing the
Sacred Feet; Blessed John caring for the living and the Dead; and he,
Dominic - hound of the Lord - having his real, living share in the
anguish and hope, the bedding of the dearest Dead, who did but leave
this earth that He might manifest Himself more completely.
     Underneath, with a leap across the centuries, is Rossetti's picture;
Dante this time the onlooker, Beatrice, in her pale beauty, the death-
kissed one. The same idea under different representations; the one
conceived in childlike simplicity, the other recalling, even in the
photograph, its wealth of colour and imagining; the one a world-wide
ideal, the other an individual expression of it.
     Beatrice was to Dante the inclusion of belief. She was more to him
than he himself knew, far more to him after her death than before. And,
therefore, the analogy between the pictures has at core a common reality.
"It is expedient for you that I go away," is constantly being said to us as
we cling earthlike to the outward expression, rather than to the inward
manifestation - and blessed are those who hear and understand, for it is
spoken only to such as have been with Him from the beginning. The
eternal mysteries come into time for us individually under widely
differing forms. The tiny child mothers its doll, croons to it, spends
herself upon it, why she cannot tell you; and we who are here in our
extreme youth, never to be men and women grown in this world, nurse
our ideal, exchange it, refashion it, call it by many names; and at last in
here or hereafter we find in its naked truth the Child in the manger, even
as the Wise Men found Him when they came from the East to seek a
great King. There is but one necessary condition of this finding; we
must follow the particular manifestation of light given us, never resting
until it rests - over the place of the Child.        And there is but one
insurmountable hindrance, the extinction of or drawing back from the

                             The Roadmender

light truly apprehended by us. We forget this, and judge other men by
the light of our own soul.
    I think the old bishop must have understood it. He is my friend of
friends as he lies opposite my window in his alabaster sleep, clad in
pontifical robes, with unshod feet, a little island of white peace in a
many-coloured marble sea. The faithful sculptor has given every line
and wrinkle, the heavy eyelids and sunken face of tired old age, but
withal the smile of a contented child.
    I do not even know my bishop's name, only that the work is of the
thirteenth century; but he is good to company with through the day, for
he has known darkness and light and the minds of many men; most
surely, too, he has known that God fulfils Himself in strange ways, so
with the shadow of his feet upon the polished floor he rests in peace.

                               The Roadmender

                              CHAPTER IV

    ON Sunday my little tree was limned in white and the sparrows were
craving shelter at my window from the blizzard. Now the mild thin air
brings a breath of spring in its wake and the daffodils in the garden wait
the kisses of the sun. Hand-in-hand with memory I slip away down the
years, and remember a day when I awoke at earliest dawn, for across my
sleep I had heard the lusty golden-throated trumpeters heralding the
    The air was sharp-set; a delicate rime frosted roof and road; the sea
lay hazy and still like a great pearl. Then as the sky stirred with flush
upon flush of warm rosy light, it passed from misty pearl to opal with
heart of flame, from opal to gleaming sapphire.         The earth called, the
fields called, the river called - that pied piper to whose music a man
cannot stop his ears. It was with me as with the Canterbury pilgrims:-
      "So priketh hem nature in hir corages; Than longen folk to gon on
      Half an hour later I was away by the early train that carries the
branch mails and a few workmen, and was delivered at the little wayside
station with the letters. The kind air went singing past as I swung along
the reverberating road between the high tree- crowned banks which we
call hedges in merry Devon, with all the world to myself and the
Brethren. A great blackbird flew out with a loud "chook, chook," and
the red of the haw on his yellow bill.      A robin trilled from a low rose-
bush; two wrens searched diligently on a fallen tree for breakfast, quite
unconcerned when I rested a moment beside them; and a shrewmouse
slipped across the road followed directly by its mate. March violets
bloomed under the sheltered hedge with here and there a pale primrose;
a frosted bramble spray still held its autumn tints clinging to the
semblance of the past; and great branches of snowy blackthorn broke the
barren hedgeway as if spring made a mock of winter's snows.
    Light of heart and foot with the new wine of the year I sped on again,
stray daffodils lighting the wayside, until I heard the voice of the stream
                               The Roadmender

and reached the field gate which leads to the lower meadows. There
before me lay spring's pageant; green pennons waving, dainty maids
curtseying, and a host of joyous yellow trumpeters proclaiming 'Victory'
to an awakened earth. They range in serried ranks right down to the
river, so that a man must walk warily to reach the water's edge where
they stand gazing down at themselves in fairest semblance like their
most tragic progenitor, and, rising from the bright grass in their
thousands, stretch away until they melt in a golden cloud at the far end
of the misty mead.        Through the field gate and across the road I see
them, starring the steep earth bank that leads to the upper copse,
gleaming like pale flames against the dark tree-boles. There they have
but frail tenure; here, in the meadows, they reign supreme.
    At the upper end of the field the river provides yet closer sanctuary
for these children of the spring. Held in its embracing arms lies an
island long and narrow, some thirty feet by twelve, a veritable untrod
Eldorado, glorious in gold from end to end, a fringe of reeds by the
water's edge, and save for that - daffodils.     A great oak stands at the
meadow's neck, an oak with gnarled and wandering roots where a man
may rest, for it is bare of daffodils save for a group of three, and a
solitary one apart growing close to the old tree's side. I sat down by my
lonely little sister, blue sky overhead, green grass at my feet decked, like
the pastures of the Blessed, in glorious sheen; a sea of triumphant,
golden heads tossing blithely back as the wind swept down to play with
them at his pleasure.
    It was all mine to have and to hold without severing a single slender
stem or harbouring a thought of covetousness; mine, as the whole earth
was mine, to appropriate to myself without the burden and bane of
worldly possession. "Thou sayest that I am - a King," said the Lord
before Pilate, and "My kingdom is not of this world." We who are made
kings after His likeness possess all things, not after this world's fashion
but in proportion to our poverty; and when we cease to toil and spin, are
arrayed as the lilies, in a glory transcending Solomon's. Bride Poverty
- she who climbed the Cross with Christ - stretched out eager hands to
free us from our chains, but we flee from her, and lay up treasure against

                              The Roadmender

her importunity, while Amytas on his seaweed bed weeps tears of pure
pity for crave-mouth Caesar of great possessions.
    Presently another of spring's lovers cried across the water "Cuckoo,
cuckoo," and the voice of the stream sang joyously in unison. It is free
from burden, this merry little river, and neither weir nor mill bars its
quick way to the sea as it completes the eternal circle, lavishing gifts of
coolness and refreshment on the children of the meadows.
    It has its birth on the great lone moor, cradled in a wonderful peat-
smelling bog, with a many-hued coverlet of soft mosses - pale gold,
orange, emerald, tawny, olive and white, with the red stain of sun-dew
and tufted cotton-grass. Under the old grey rocks which watch it rise,
yellow-eyed tormantil stars the turf, and bids "Godspeed" to the little
child of earth and sky. Thus the journey begins; and with ever-
increasing strength the stream carves a way through the dear brown peat,
wears a fresh wrinkle on the patient stones, and patters merrily under a
clapper bridge which spanned its breadth when the mistletoe reigned and
Bottor, the grim rock idol, exacted the toll of human life that made him
great. On and on goes the stream, for it may not stay; leaving of its
freshness with the great osmunda that stretches eager roots towards the
running water; flowing awhile with a brother stream, to part again east
and west as each takes up his separate burden of service - my friend to
cherish the lower meadows in their flowery joyance - and so by the great
sea-gate back to sky and earth again.
    The river of God is full of water. The streets of the City are pure
gold. Verily, here also having nothing we possess all things.
      The air was keen and still as I walked back in the early evening,
and a daffodil light was in the sky as if Heaven mirrored back earth's
radiance. Near the station some children flitted past, like little white
miller moths homing through the dusk. As I climbed the hill the moon
rode high in a golden field - it was daffodils to the last.

                              The Roadmender

                             CHAPTER V

    THE seagulls from the upper reaches pass down the river in sober
steady flight seeking the open sea. I shall miss the swoop and circle of
silver wings in the sunlight and the plaintive call which sounds so
strangely away from rock and shore, but it is good to know that they
have gone from mudbank and murky town back to the free airs of their
inheritance, to the shadow of sun-swept cliffs and the curling crest of the
wind-beaten waves, to brood again over the great ocean of a world's
    My little tree is gemmed with buds, shy, immature, but full of
promise. The sparrows busied with nest-building in the neighbouring
pipes and gutters use it for a vantage ground, and crowd there in
numbers, each little beak sealed with long golden straw or downy
    The river is heavy with hay barges, the last fruits of winter's
storehouse; the lengthening days slowly and steadily oust the dark; the
air is loud with a growing clamour of life: spring is not only
proclaimed, but on this Feast she is crowned, and despite the warring
wind the days bring their meed of sunshine. We stand for a moment at
the meeting of the ways, the handclasp of Winter and Spring, of Sleep
and Wakening, of Life and Death; and there is between them not even
the thin line which Rabbi Jochanan on his death-bed beheld as all that
divided hell from heaven.
NULLIBUS," was said of Mercury, that messenger of the gods who
marshalled reluctant spirits to the Underworld; and for Mercury we may
write Life with Death as its great sacrament of brotherhood and release,
to be dreaded only as we dread to partake unworthily of great benefits.
Like all sacraments it has its rightful time and due solemnities; the
horror and sin of suicide lie in the presumption of free will, the
forestalling of a gift, - the sin of Eve in Paradise, who took that which
might only be given at the hand of the Lord. It has too its physical
                               The Roadmender

pains, but they are those of a woman in travail, and we remember them
no more for joy that a child-man is born into the world naked and not
ashamed: beholding ourselves as we are we shall see also the leaves of
the Tree of Life set for the healing of the nations.
    We are slowly, very slowly, abandoning our belief in sudden and
violent transitions for a surer and fuller acceptance of the doctrine of
evolution; but most of us still draw a sharp line of demarcation between
this world and the next, and expect a radical change in ourselves and our
surroundings, a break in the chain of continuity entirely contrary to the
teaching of nature and experience. In the same way we cling to the
specious untruth that we can begin over and over again in this world,
forgetting that while our sorrow and repentance bring sacramental gifts
of grace and strength, God Himself cannot, by His own limitation,
rewrite the Past. We are in our sorrow that which we have made
ourselves in our sin; our temptations are there as well as the way of
escape.     We are in the image of God. We create our world, our
undying selves, our heaven, or our hell. "QUI CREAVIT TE SINE TE
NON SALVABIT TE SINE TE." It is stupendous, magnificent, and
most appalling. A man does not change as he crosses the threshold of
the larger room. His personality remains the same, although the
expression of it may be altered. Here we have material bodies in a
material world - there, perhaps, ether bodies in an ether world. There is
no indecency in reasonable speculation and curiosity about the life to
come. One end of the thread is between our fingers, but we are
haunted for the most part by the snap of Atropos' shears.
    Socrates faced death with the magnificent calm bred of dignified
familiarity. He had built for himself a desired heaven of colour, light,
and precious stones - the philosophic formula of those who set the
spiritual above the material, and worship truth in the beauty of holiness.
He is not troubled by doubts or regrets, for the path of the just lies plain
before his face. He forbids mourning and lamentations as out of place,
obeys minutely and cheerily the directions of his executioner, and passes
with unaffected dignity to the apprehension of that larger truth for
which he had constantly prepared himself. His friends may bury him

                               The Roadmender

provided they will remember they are not burying Socrates; and that all
things may be done decently and in order, a cock must go to
    Long before, in the days of the Captivity, there lived in godless,
blood-shedding Nineveh an exiled Jew whose father had fallen from the
faith. He was a simple man, child-like and direct; living the careful,
kindly life of an orthodox Jew, suffering many persecutions for
conscience' sake, and in constant danger of death. He narrates the story
of his life and of the blindness which fell on him, with gentle placidity,
and checks the exuberance of his more emotional wife with the
assurance of untroubled faith. Finally, when his pious expectations are
fulfilled, his sight restored, and his son prosperously established beside
him, he breaks into a prayer of rejoicing which reveals the secret of his
confident content. He made use of two great faculties: the sense of
proportion, which enabled him to apprise life and its accidents justly,
and the gift of in-seeing, which led Socrates after him, and Blessed John
in lonely exile on Patmos, to look through the things temporal to the
hidden meanings of eternity.
    "Let my soul bless God the great King," he cries; and looks away
past the present distress; past the Restoration which was to end in fresh
scattering and confusion; past the dream of gold, and porphyry, and
marble defaced by the eagles and emblems of the conqueror; until his
eyes are held by the Jerusalem of God, "built up with sapphires, and
emeralds, and precious stones," with battlements of pure gold, and the
cry of 'Alleluia' in her streets.
    Many years later, when he was very aged, he called his son to him
and gave him as heritage his own simple rule of life, adding but one
request: "Keep thou the law and the commandments, and shew thyself
merciful and just, that it may go well with thee. . . . Consider what alms
doeth, and how righteousness doth deliver. . . . And bury me decently,
and thy mother with me." Having so said, he went his way quietly and
contentedly to the Jerusalem of his heart.
    It is the simple note of familiarity that is wanting in us; that by which
we link world with world. Once, years ago, I sat by the bedside of a

                              The Roadmender

dying man in a wretched garret in the East End. He was entirely
ignorant, entirely quiescent, and entirely uninterested. The minister of
a neighbouring chapel came to see him and spoke to him at some length
of the need for repentance and the joys of heaven. After he had gone
my friend lay staring restlessly at the mass of decrepit broken chimney
pots which made his horizon. At last he spoke, and there was a new
note in his voice:-
    "Ee said as 'ow there were golding streets in them parts. I ain't no
ways particler wot they're made of, but it'll feel natral like if there's
chimleys too."
    The sun stretched a sudden finger and painted the chimney pots red
and gold against the smoke-dimmed sky, and with his face alight with
surprised relief my friend died.
    We are one with the earth, one in sin, one in redemption. It is the
fringe of the garment of God. "If I may but touch the hem," said a
certain woman.
    On the great Death-day which shadows the early spring with a shadow
of which it may be said UMBRA DEI EST LUX, the earth brought gifts
of grief, the fruit of the curse, barren thorns, hollow reed, and the wood
of the cross; the sea made offering of Tyrian purple; the sky veiled her
face in great darkness, while the nation of priests crucified for the last
time their Paschal lamb. "I will hear, saith the Lord; I will hear the
heavens, and they shall hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn
and wine and oil, and they shall hear Jezreel, and I will sow her unto me
in the earth; and I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy,
and I will say unto them which were not my people, 'Thou art my
people,' and they shall say 'Thou art my God.'"
    The second Adam stood in the garden with quickening feet, and all
the earth pulsed and sang for joy of the new hope and the new life
quickening within her, to be hers through the pains of travail, the pangs
of dissolution. The Tree of Life bears Bread and Wine - food of the
wayfaring man. The day of divisions is past, the day of unity has
dawned. One has risen from the dead, and in the Valley of Achor
stands wide the Door of Hope - the Sacrament of Death.

                            The Roadmender

     Scio Domine, et vere scio . . . quia non sum dignus accedere ad
tantum mysterium propter nimia peccata mea et infinitas negligentias
meas. Sed scio . . . quia tu potes me facere dignum.

                               The Roadmender

                              CHAPTER VI

    "ANYTUS and Meletus can kill me, but they cannot hurt me," said
Socrates; and Governor Sancho, with all the itch of newly-acquired
authority, could not make the young weaver of steel-heads for lances
sleep in prison. In the Vision of Er the souls passed straight forward
under the throne of necessity, and out into the plains of forgetfulness,
where they must severally drink of the river of unmindfulness whose
waters cannot be held in any vessel. The throne, the plain, and the river
are still here, but in the distance rise the great lone heavenward hills, and
the wise among us no longer ask of the gods Lethe, but rather
remembrance.         Necessity can set me helpless on my back, but she
cannot keep me there; nor can four walls limit my vision. I pass out
from under her throne into the garden of God a free man, to my ultimate
beatitude or my exceeding shame. All day long this world lies open to
me; ay, and other worlds also, if I will but have it so; and when night
comes I pass into the kingdom and power of the dark.
    I lie through the long hours and watch my bridge, which is set with
lights across the gloom; watch the traffic which is for me but so many
passing lamps telling their tale by varying height and brightness. I hear
under my window the sprint of over-tired horses, the rattle of uncertain
wheels as the street-sellers hasten south; the jangle of cab bells as the
theatre-goers take their homeward way; the gruff altercation of weary
men, the unmelodious song and clamorous laugh of women whose
merriment is wearier still. Then comes a time of stillness when the light
in the sky waxes and wanes, when the cloud-drifts obscure the stars, and
I gaze out into blackness set with watching eyes. No sound comes
from without but the voice of the night-wind and the cry of the hour.
The clock on the mantelpiece ticks imperatively, for a check has fallen
on the familiarity which breeds a disregard of common things, and a
reason has to be sought for each sound which claims a hearing. The
pause is wonderful while it lasts, but it is not for long. The working
world awakes, the poorer brethren take up the burden of service; the
                               The Roadmender

dawn lights the sky; remembrance cries an end to forgetting.
     Sometimes in the country on a night in early summer you may shut
the cottage door to step out into an immense darkness which palls
heaven and earth. Going forward into the embrace of the great gloom,
you are as a babe swaddled by the hands of night into helpless
quiescence. Your feet tread an unseen path, your hands grasp at a void,
or shrink from the contact they cannot realise; your eyes are holden;
your voice would die in your throat did you seek to rend the veil of that
impenetrable silence.
     Shut in by the intangible dark, we are brought up against those
worlds within worlds blotted out by our concrete daily life. The
working of the great microcosm at which we peer dimly through the
little window of science; the wonderful, breathing earth; the pulsing,
throbbing sap; the growing fragrance shut in the calyx of to-morrow's
flower; the heart-beat of a sleeping world that we dream that we know;
and around, above, and interpenetrating all, the world of dreams, of
angels and of spirits.
     It was this world which Jacob saw on the first night of his exile, and
again when he wrestled in Peniel until the break of day. It was this
world which Elisha saw with open eyes; which Job knew when darkness
fell on him; which Ezekiel gazed into from his place among the captives;
which Daniel beheld as he stood alone by the great river, the river
     For the moment we have left behind the realm of question and
explanation, of power over matter and the exercise of bodily faculties;
and passed into darkness alight with visions we cannot see, into silence
alive with voices we cannot hear. Like helpless men we set our all on
the one thing left us, and lift up our hearts, knowing that we are but a
mere speck among a myriad worlds, yet greater than the sum of them;
having our roots in the dark places of the earth, but our branches in the
sweet airs of heaven.
     It is the material counterpart of the 'Night of the Soul.' We have left
our house and set forth in the darkness which paralyses those faculties
that make us men in the world of men. But surely the great mystics,

                              The Roadmender

with all their insight and heavenly love, fell short when they sought
freedom in complete separateness from creation instead of in perfect
unity with it. The Greeks knew better when they flung Ariadne's crown
among the stars, and wrote Demeter's grief on a barren earth, and
Persephone's joy in the fruitful field. For the earth is gathered up in
man; he is the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts.
Standing in the image of God, and clothed in the garment of God, he
lifts up priestly hands and presents the sacrifice of redeemed earth before
the throne of the All-Father. "Dust and ashes and a house of devils," he
cries; and there comes back for answer, "REX CONCUPISCET
     The Angel of Death has broad wings of silence and mystery with
which he shadows the valley where we need fear no evil, and where the
voice which speaks to us is as the "voice of doves, tabering upon their
breasts." It is a place of healing and preparation, of peace and
refreshing after the sharply-defined outlines of a garish day. Walking
there we learn to use those natural faculties of the soul which are
hampered by the familiarity of bodily progress, to apprehend the truths
which we have intellectually accepted. It is the place of secrets where
the humility which embraces all attainable knowledge cries "I know not";
and while we proclaim from the house-tops that which we have learnt,
the manner of our learning lies hid for each one of us in the sanctuary of
our souls.
     The Egyptians, in their ancient wisdom, act in the desert a great
androsphinx, image of mystery and silence, staring from under level
brows across the arid sands of the sea-way. The Greeks borrowed and
debased the image, turning the inscrutable into a semi-woman who
asked a foolish riddle, and hurled herself down in petulant pride when
OEdipus answered aright. So we, marring the office of silence,
question its mystery; thwart ourselves with riddles of our own
suggesting; and turn away, leaving our offering but half consumed on the
altar of the unknown god. It was not the theft of fire that brought the
vengeance of heaven upon Prometheus, but the mocking sacrifice.
Orpheus lost Eurydice because he must see her face before the appointed

                               The Roadmender

time. Persephone ate of the pomegranate and hungered in gloom for
the day of light which should have been endless.
    The universe is full of miracle and mystery; the darkness and silence
are set for a sign we dare not despise. The pall of night lifts, leaving us
engulphed in the light of immensity under a tossing heaven of stars.
The dawn breaks, but it does not surprise us, for we have watched from
the valley and seen the pale twilight. Through the wondrous Sabbath of
faithful souls, the long day of rosemary and rue, the light brightens in the
East; and we pass on towards it with quiet feet and opening eyes,
bearing with us all of the redeemed earth that we have made our own,
until we are fulfilled in the sunrise of the great Easter Day, and the
peoples come from north and south and east and west to the City which
lieth foursquare - the Beatific Vision of God.
     Vere Ierusalem est illa civitas Cuius pax iugis et summa iucunditas;
Ubi non praevenit rem desiderium, Nec desiderio minus est praemium.

     The Roadmender


                              The Roadmender

                              CHAPTER I

     A GREAT joy has come to me; one of those unexpected gifts which
life loves to bestow after we have learnt to loose our grip of her. I am
back in my own place very near my road - the white gate lies within my
distant vision; near the lean grey Downs which keep watch and ward
between the country and the sea; very near, nay, in the lap of Mother
Earth, for as I write I am lying on a green carpet, powdered yellow and
white with the sun's own flowers; overhead a great sycamore where the
bees toil and sing; and sighing shimmering poplars golden grey against
the blue. The day of Persephone has dawned for me, and I, set free like
Demeter's child, gladden my eyes with this foretaste of coming radiance,
and rest my tired sense with the scent and sound of home. Away down
the meadow I hear the early scythe song, and the warm air is fragrant
with the fallen grass. It has its own message for me as I lie here, I who
have obtained yet one more mercy, and the burden of it is life, not death.
     I remember when, taking a grace from my road, I helped to mow
Farmer Marler's ten-acre field, rich in ripe upstanding grass. The
mechanism of the ancient reaper had given way under the strain of the
home meadows, and if this crop was to be saved it must be by hand. I
have kept the record of those days of joyous labour under a June sky.
Men were hard to get in our village; old Dodden, who was over seventy,
volunteered his services - he had done yeoman work with the scythe in
his youth - and two of the farm hands with their master completed our
     We took our places under a five o'clock morning sky, and the larks
cried down to us as we stood knee-deep in the fragrant dew-steeped
grass, each man with his gleaming scythe poised ready for its sweeping
swing. Old Dodden led by right of age and ripe experience; bent like a
sickle, brown and dry as a nut, his face a tracery of innumerable
wrinkles, he has never ailed a day, and the cunning of his craft was still
with him. At first we worked stiffly, unreadily, but soon the
monotonous motion possessed us with its insistent rhythm, and the grass
                               The Roadmender

bowed to each sibilant swish and fell in sweet-smelling swathes at our
feet. Now and then a startled rabbit scurried through the miniature
forest to vanish with white flick of tail in the tangled hedge; here and
there a mother lark was discovered sitting motionless, immovable upon
her little brood; but save for these infrequent incidents we paced
steadily on with no speech save the cry of the hone on the steel and the
swish of the falling swathes. The sun rose high in the heaven and burnt
on bent neck and bare and aching arms, the blood beat and drummed in
my veins with the unwonted posture and exercise; I worked as a man
who sees and hears in a mist. Once, as I paused to whet my scythe, my
eye caught the line of the untroubled hills strong and still in the broad
sunshine; then to work again in the labouring, fertile valley.
    Rest time came, and wiping the sweat from brow and blade we sought
the welcome shadow of the hedge and the cool sweet oatmeal water with
which the wise reaper quenches his thirst. Farmer Marler hastened off
to see with master-eye that all went well elsewhere; the farm men slept
tranquilly, stretched at full length, clasped hands for pillow; and old
Dodden, sitting with crooked fingers interlaced to check their trembling
betrayal of old age, told how in his youth he had "swep" a four-acre field
single-handed in three days - an almost impossible feat - and of the first
reaping machine in these parts, and how it brought, to his thinking, the
ruin of agricultural morals with it. "'Tis again nature," he said, "the
Lard gave us the land an' the seed, but 'Ee said that a man should sweat.
Where's the sweat drivin' round wi' two horses cuttin' the straw down an'
gatherin' it again, wi' scarce a hand's turn i' the day's work?"
    Old Dodden's high-pitched quavering voice rose and fell, mournful
as he surveyed the present, vehement as he recorded the heroic past.
He spoke of the rural exodus and shook his head mournfully.         "We old
'uns were content wi' earth and the open sky like our feythers before us,
but wi' the children 'tis first machines to save doin' a hand's turn o'
honest work, an' then land an' sky ain't big enough seemin'ly, nor grand
enough; it must be town an' a paved street, an' they sweat their lives out
atwixt four walls an' call it seein' life - 'tis death an' worse comes to the
most of 'em. Ay, 'tis better to stay by the land, as the Lard said, till

                              The Roadmender

time comes to lie under it." I looked away across the field where the
hot air throbbed and quivered, and the fallen grass, robbed already of its
freshness, lay prone at the feet of its upstanding fellows. It is quite
useless to argue with old Dodden; he only shakes his head and says
firmly, "An old man, seventy-five come Martinmass knows more o' life
than a young chap, stands ter reason"; besides, his epitome of the town
life he knows nothing of was a just one as far as it went; and his own son
is the sweeper of a Holborn crossing, and many other things that he
should not be; but that is the parson's secret and mine.
     We took rank again and swept steadily on through the hot still hours
into the evening shadows, until the sinking sun set a GLORIA to the
psalm of another working day. Only a third of the field lay mown, for
we were not skilled labourers to cut our acre a day; I saw it again that
night under the moonlight and the starlight, wrapped in a shroud of
summer's mist.
     The women joined us on the third day to begin haymaking, and the
air was fragrant of tossed and sun-dried grass. One of them walked
apart from the rest, without interest or freedom of movement; her face,
sealed and impassive, was aged beyond the vigour of her years. I knew
the woman by sight, and her history by hearsay. We have a code of
morals here - not indeed peculiar to this place or people - that a wedding
is 'respectable' if it precedes child-birth by a bare month, tolerable, and
to be recognised, should it succeed the same by less than a year
(provided the pair are not living in the same village); but the child that
has never been 'fathered' and the wife without a ring are 'anathema,' and
such in one was Elizabeth Banks. She went away a maid and came
back a year ago with a child and without a name. Her mother was dead,
her father and the village would have none of her: the homing instinct
is very strong, or she would scarcely have returned, knowing the
traditions of the place. Old Dodden, seeing her, grumbled to me in the
rest-time. - "Can't think what the farmer wants wi' Lizzie Banks in 'is
field." "She must live," I said, "and by all showing her life is a hard
one." "She 'ad the makin' of 'er bed," he went on, obstinately. "What
for do she bring her disgrace home, wi' a fatherless brat for all folks to

                               The Roadmender

see? We don't want them sort in our village. The Lord's hand is
heavy, an' a brat's a curse that cannot be hid."
     When tea-time came I crossed the field to look for a missing hone,
and saw Elizabeth Banks far from the other women, busied with a
bundle under the hedge. I passed close on my search, and lo! the
bundle was a little boy. He lay smiling and stretching, fighting the air
with his small pink fists, while the wind played with his curls. "A curse
that cannot be hid," old Dodden had said. The mother knelt a moment,
devouring him with her eyes, then snatched him to her with aching greed
and covered him with kisses. I saw the poor, plain face illumined,
transfigured, alive with a mother's love, and remembered how the word
came once to a Hebrew prophet:-
      Say unto your brethren Ammi, and to your sisters Ruhamah.
      The evening sky was clouding fast, the sound of rain was in the air;
Farmer Marler shook his head as he looked at the grass lying in ordered
rows. I was the last to leave, and as I lingered at the gate drinking in
the scent of the field and the cool of the coming rain, the first drops fell
on my upturned face and kissed the poor dry swathes at my feet, and I
was glad.
     David, child of the fields and the sheepfolds, his kingship laid aside,
sees through the parted curtain of the years the advent of his greater Son,
and cries in his psalm of the hilltops, his last prophetic prayer:-
      He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass.
      Even so He came, and shall still come. Three days ago the field,
in its pageant of fresh beauty, with shimmering blades and tossing
banners, greeted sun and shower alike with joy for the furtherance of its
life and purpose; now, laid low, it hears the young grass whisper the
splendour of its coming green; and the poor swathes are glad at the
telling, but full of grief for their own apparent failure. Then in great
pity comes the rain, the rain of summer, gentle, refreshing, penetrating,
and the swathes are comforted, for they know that standing to greet or
prostrate to suffer, the consolations of the former and the latter rain are
still their own, with tender touch and cool caress. Then, once more
parched by the sun, they are borne away to the new service their

                              The Roadmender

apparent failure has fitted them for; and perhaps as they wait in the dark
for the unknown that is still to come they hear sometimes the call of the
distant rain, and at the sound the dry sap stirs afresh - they are not
forgotten and can wait.
    "SAY UNTO YOUR SISTERS RUHAMAH," cries the prophet.
sang the poet of the sheepfolds.
      I remember how I went home along the damp sweet-scented lanes
through the grey mist of the rain, thinking of the mown field and
Elizabeth Banks and many, many more; and that night, when the sky had
cleared and the nightingale sang, I looked out at the moon riding at
anchor, a silver boat in a still blue sea ablaze with the headlights of the
stars, and the saying of the herdsman of Tekoa came to me - as it has
come oftentimes since:-
      Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the
shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night;
that calleth for the waters of the sea and poureth them out upon the face
of earth; the Lord is His name.

                               The Roadmender

                              CHAPTER II

    THIS garden is an epitome of peace; sun and wind, rain, flowers,
and birds gather me into the blessedness of their active harmony.       The
world holds no wish for me, now that I have come home to die with my
own people, for verify I think that the sap of grass and trees must run in
my veins, so steady is their pull upon my heart- strings. London claimed
all my philosophy, but the country gives all, and asks of me only the
warm receptivity of a child in its mother's arms.
    When I lie in my cool light room on the garden level, I look across
the bright grass - IL VERDE SMALTO - to a great red rose bush in
lavish disarray against the dark cypress. Near by, amid a tangle of
many-hued corn-flowers I see the promise of coming lilies, the sudden
crimson of a solitary paeony; and in lowlier state against the poor
parched earth glow the golden cups of the eschseholtzias. Beyond the
low hedge lies pasture bright with buttercups, where the cattle feed.
Farther off, where the scythe has been busy, are sheep, clean and shorn,
with merry, well-grown lambs; and in the farthest field I can see the
great horses moving in slow steady pace as the farmer turns his furrow.
    The birds are noisy comrades and old friends, from the lark which
chants the dew-steeped morning, to the nightingale that breaks the
silence of the most wonderful nights. I hear the wisdom of the rooks in
the great elms; the lifting lilt of the linnet, and the robin's quaint little
summer song. The starlings chatter ceaselessly, their queer strident
voices harsh against the melodious gossip of the other birds; the martins
shrill softly as they swoop to and fro busied with their nesting under the
caves; thrush and blackbird vie in friendly rivalry like the Meister-
singer of old; sometimes I hear the drawling cry of a peacock strayed
from the great house, or the laugh of the woodpecker; and at night the
hunting note of the owl reaches me as he sweeps by in search of prey.
    To-day I am out again; and the great sycamore showers honey and
flowers on me as I lie beneath it. Sometimes a bee falls like an over-
ripe fruit, and waits awhile to clean his pollen-coated legs ere he flies
                                The Roadmender

home to discharge his burden. He is too busy to be friendly, but his
great velvety cousin is much more sociable, and stays for a gentle rub
between his noisy shimmering wings, and a nap in the hollow of my
hand, for he is an idle friendly soul with plenty of time at his own
disposal and no responsibilities. Looking across I can watch the martins
at work; they have a starling and a sparrow for near neighbours in the
wooden gutter. One nest is already complete all but the coping, the
other two are a-building: I wonder whether I or they will be first to go
south through the mist.
    This great tree is a world in itself, and the denizens appear full of
curiosity as to the Gulliver who has taken up his abode beneath it. Pale
green caterpillars and spiders of all sizes come spinning down to visit
me, and have to be persuaded with infinite difficulty to ascend their
threads again. There are flies with beautiful iridescent wings, beetles
of all shapes, some of them like tiny jewels in the sunlight. Their
nomenclature is a sealed book to me; of their life and habits I know
nothing; yet this is but a little corner of the cosmos I am leaving, and I
feel not so much desire for the beauty to come, as a great longing to
open my eyes a little wider during the time which remains to me in this
beautiful world of God's making, where each moment tells its own tale
of active, progressive life in which there is no undoing. Nature knows
naught of the web of Penelope, that acme of anxious pathetic waiting,
but goes steadily on in ever widening circle towards the fulfilment of
the mystery of God.
    There are, I take it, two master-keys to the secrets of the universe,
viewed SUB SPECIE AETERNITATIS, the Incarnation of God, and the
Personality of Man; with these it is true for us as for the pantheistic little
man of contemptible speech, that "all things are ours," yea, even unto the
third heaven.
    I have lost my voracious appetite for books; their language is less
plain than scent and song and the wind in the trees; and for me the clue
to the next world lies in the wisdom of earth rather than in the learning
of men. "LIBERA ME AB FUSCINA HOPHNI," prayed the good
Bishop fearful of religious greed. I know too much, not too little; it is

                               The Roadmender

realisation that I lack, wherefore I desire these last days to confirm in
myself the sustaining goodness of God, the love which is our continuing
city, the New Jerusalem whose length, breadth, and height are all one.
It is a time of exceeding peace.       There is a place waiting for me under
the firs in the quiet churchyard; thanks to my poverty I have no worldly
anxieties or personal dispositions; and I am rich in friends, many of them
unknown to me, who lavishly supply my needs and make it ideal to live
on the charity of one's fellow-men. I am most gladly in debt to all the
world; and to Earth, my mother, for her great beauty.
     I can never remember the time when I did not love her, this mother
of mine with her wonderful garments and ordered loveliness, her tender
care and patient bearing of man's burden. In the earliest days of my
lonely childhood I used to lie chin on hand amid the milkmaids, red
sorrel, and heavy spear-grass listening to her many voices, and above all
to the voice of the little brook which ran through the meadows where I
used to play: I think it has run through my whole life also, to lose itself
at last, not in the great sea but in the river that maketh glad the City of
God.       Valley and plain, mountain and fruitful field; the lark's song and
the speedwell in the grass; surely a man need not sigh for greater
loveliness until he has read something more of this living letter, and
knelt before that earth of which he is the only confusion.
     It is a grave matter that the word religion holds such away among us,
making the very gap seem to yawn again which the Incarnation once and
for ever filled full. We have banished the protecting gods that ruled in
river and mountain, tree and grove; we have gainsayed for the most part
folk-lore and myth, superstition and fairy-tale, evil only in their abuse.
We have done away with mystery, or named it deceit. All this we have
done in an enlightened age, but despite this policy of destruction we
have left ourselves a belief, the grandest and most simple the world has
ever known, which sanctifies the water that is shed by every passing
cloud; and gathers up in its great central act vineyard and cornfield,
proclaiming them to be that Life of the world without which a man is
dead while he liveth. Further, it is a belief whose foundations are the
most heavenly mystery of the Trinity, but whose centre is a little Child:

                               The Roadmender

it sets a price upon the head of the sparrow, and reckons the riches of
this world at their true value; it points to a way of holiness where the
fool shall not err, and the sage may find the realisation of his far-seeking;
and yet, despite its inclusiveness, it is a belief which cannot save the
birds from destruction, the silent mountains from advertisement, or the
stream from pollution, in an avowedly Christian land. John Ruskin
scolded and fought and did yeoman service, somewhat hindered by his
over-good conceit of himself; but it is not the worship of beauty we need
so much as the beauty of holiness. Little by little the barrier grows and
'religion' becomes a RULE of life, not life itself, although the Bride
stands ready to interpret, likened in her loveliness to the chief treasures
of her handmaid-Earth. There is more truth in the believing cry, "Come
from thy white cliffs, O Pan!" than in the religion that measures a man's
life by the letter of the Ten Commandments, and erects itself as judge
and ruler over him, instead of throwing open the gate of the garden
where God walks with man from morning until morning.
     As I write the sun is setting; in the pale radiance of the sky above his
glory there dawns the evening star; and earth like a tired child turns her
face to the bosom of the night.

                               The Roadmender

                              CHAPTER III

     ONCE again I have paid a rare visit to my tree to find many things
changed since my last sojourn there. The bees are silent, for the honey-
laden flowers of the sycamore are gone and in their place hang dainty
two-fold keys. The poplar has lost its metallic shimmer, the chestnut
its tall white candles; and the sound of the wind in the fully-leaved
branches is like the sighing of the sea.     The martins' nests are finished,
and one is occupied by a shrill- voiced brood; but for the most part the
birds' parental cares are over, and the nestlings in bold flight no longer
flutter on inefficient wings across the lawn with clamorous, open bill.
The robins show promise of their ruddy vests, the slim young thrush is
diligently practising maturer notes, and soon Maid June will have fled.
     It is such a wonderful world that I cannot find it in my heart to sigh
for fresh beauty amid these glories of the Lord on which I look, seeing
men as trees walking, in my material impotence which awaits the final
anointing. The marigolds with their orange suns, the lilies' white flame,
the corncockle's blue crown of many flowers, the honeysuckle's horn of
fragrance - I can paraphrase them, name, class, dissect them; and then,
save for the purposes of human intercourse, I stand where I stood before,
my world bounded by my capacity, the secret of colour and fragrance
still kept. It is difficult to believe that the second lesson will not be the
sequence of the first, and death prove a "feast of opening eyes" to all
these wonders, instead of the heavy-lidded slumber to which we so often
liken it. "Earth to earth?" Yes, "dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt
return," but what of the rest? What of the folded grave clothes, and the
Forty Days? If the next state be, as it well might, space of four
dimensions, and the first veil which will lift for me be the material one,
then the "other" world which is hidden from our grosser material
organism will lie open, and declare still further to my widening eyes and
unstopped ears the glory and purpose of the manifold garment of God.
Knowledge will give place to understanding in that second chamber of
the House of Wisdom and Love. Revelation is always measured by
                               The Roadmender

capacity: "Open thy mouth wide," and it shall be filled with a
satisfaction that in itself is desire.
     There is a child here, a happy quiet little creature holding gently to
its two months of life. Sometimes they lay it beside me, I the more
helpless of the two - perhaps the more ignorant - and equally dependent
for the supply of my smallest need. I feel indecently large as I survey
its minute perfections and the tiny balled fist lying in my great palm.
The little creature fixes me with the wise wide stare of a soul in advance
of its medium of expression; and I, gazing back at the mystery in those
eyes, feel the thrill of contact between my worn and sustained self and
the innocence of a little white child. It is wonderful to watch a
woman's rapturous familiarity with these newcomers. A man's love has
far more awe in it, and the passionate animal instinct of defence is
wanting in him. "A woman shall be saved through the child-bearing,"
said St Paul; not necessarily her own, but by participation in the great
act of motherhood which is the crown and glory of her sex. She is the
"prisoner of love," caught in a net of her own weaving; held fast by little
hands which rule by impotence, pursued by feet the swifter for their
     It seems incredible that this is what a woman will barter for the right
to "live her own life" - surely the most empty of desires. Man - VIR,
woman - FEMINA, go to make up THE man - HOMO. There can be
no comparison, no rivalry between them; they are the complement of
each other, and a little child shall lead them. It is easy to understand
that desire to shelter under the dear mantle of motherhood which has led
to one of the abuses of modern Romanism. I met an old peasant couple
at Bornhofen who had tramped many weary miles to the famous shrine
of Our Lady to plead for their only son. They had a few pence saved for
a candle, and afterwards when they told me their tale the old woman
heaved a sigh of relief, "Es wird bald gut gehen: Die da, Sie versteht,"
and I saw her later paying a farewell visit to the great understanding
Mother whom she could trust. Superstitious misapprehension if you
will, but also the recognition of a divine principle.
     It was Behmen, I believe, who cried with the breath of inspiration,

                              The Roadmender

"Only when I know God shall I know myself"; and so man remains the
last of all the riddles, to be solved it may be only in Heaven's perfection
and the light of the Beatific Vision. "Know thyself" is a vain legend,
the more so when emphasised by a skull; and so I company with a friend
and a stranger, and looking across at the white gate I wonder concerning
the quiet pastures and still waters that lie beyond, even as Brother
Ambrose wondered long years ago in the monastery by the forest.
      The Brother Ambrose was ever a saintly man approved of God and
beloved by the Brethren. To him one night, as he lay abed in the
dormitory, came the word of the Lord, saying, "Come, and I will show
thee the Bride, the Lamb's wife." And Brother Ambrose arose and was
carried to a great and high mountain, even as in the Vision of Blessed
John. 'Twas a still night of many stars, and Brother Ambrose, looking
up, saw a radiant path in the heavens; and lo! the stars gathered
themselves together on either side until they stood as walls of light, and
the four winds lapped him about as in a mantle and bore him towards the
wondrous gleaming roadway. Then between the stars came the Holy
City with roof and pinnacle aflame, and walls aglow with such colours
as no earthly limner dreams of, and much gold. Brother Ambrose
beheld the Gates of Pearl, and by every gate an angel with wings of
snow and fire, and a face no man dare look on because of its exceeding
    Then as Brother Ambrose stretched out his arms because of his great
longing, a little grey cloud came out of the north and hung between the
walls of light, so that he no longer beheld the Vision, but only heard a
sound as of a great multitude crying 'Alleluia'; and suddenly the winds
came about him again, and lo! he found himself in his bed in the
dormitory, and it was midnight, for the bell was ringing to Matins; and
he rose and went down with the rest. But when the Brethren left the
choir Brother Ambrose stayed fast in his place, hearing and seeing
nothing because of the Vision of God; and at Lauds they found him and
told the Prior.
    He questioned Brother Ambrose of the matter, and when he heard the
Vision bade him limn the Holy City even as he had seen it; and the

                               The Roadmender

Precentor gave him uterine vellum and much fine gold and what colours
he asked for the work. Then Brother Ambrose limned a wondrous fair
city of gold with turrets and spires; and he inlaid blue for the sapphire,
and green for the emerald, and vermilion where the city seemed aflame
with the glory of God; but the angels he could not limn, nor could he set
the rest of the colours as he saw them, nor the wall of stars on either
hand; and Brother Ambrose fell sick because of the exceeding great
longing he had to limn the Holy City, and was very sad; but the Prior
bade him thank God, and remember the infirmity of the flesh, which,
like the little grey cloud, veiled Jerusalem to his sight.
      As I write the monastery bell hard by rings out across the lark's
song. They still have time for visions behind those guarding walls, but
for most of us it is not so. We let slip the ideal for what we call the real,
and the golden dreams vanish while we clutch at phantoms: we speed
along life's pathway, counting to the full the sixty minutes of every hour,
yet the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. Lying here in
this quiet backwater it is hard to believe that the world without is
turbulent with storm and stress and the ebb and flow of uncertain tides.
The little yellow cat rolling on its back among the daisies, the staid
tortoise making a stately meal off the buttercups near me, these are great
events in this haven of peace. And yet, looking back to the working
days, I know how much goodness and loving kindness there is under the
froth and foam. If we do not know ourselves we most certainly do not
know our brethren: that revelation awaits us, it may be, first in Heaven.
To have faith is to create; to have hope is to call down blessing; to have
love is to work miracles. Above all let us see visions, visions of colour
and light, of green fields and broad rivers, of palaces laid with fair
colours, and gardens where a place is found for rosemary and rue.
    It is our prerogative to be dreamers, but there will always be men
ready to offer us death for our dreams. And if it must be so let us
choose death; it is gain, not loss, and the gloomy portal when we reach it
is but a white gate, the white gate maybe we have known all our lives
barred by the tendrils of the woodbine.

                               The Roadmender

                             CHAPTER IV

    RAIN, rain, rain: the little flagged path outside my window is a
streaming way, where the coming raindrops meet again the grey clouds
whose storehouse they have but just now left. The grass grows greener
as I watch it, the burnt patches fade, a thousand thirsty beads are uplifted
for the cooling draught.
    The great thrush that robs the raspberry canes is busy; yesterday he
had little but dust for his guerdon, but now fresh, juicy fruit repays him
as he swings to and fro on the pliant branches. The blackbirds and
starlings find the worms an easy prey - poor brother worm ever ready for
sacrifice. I can hear the soft expectant chatter of the family of martins
under the roof; there will be good hunting, and they know it, for the flies
are out when the rain is over, and there are clamorous mouths awaiting.
My little brown brothers, the sparrows, remain my chief delight. Of all
the birds these nestle closest to my heart, be they grimy little cockneys
or their trim and dainty country cousins. They come day by day for
their meed of crumbs spread for them outside my window, and at this
season they eat leisurely and with good appetite, for there are no hungry
babies pestering to be fed. Very early in the morning I hear the whirr
and rustle of eager wings, and the tap, tap, of little beaks upon the stone.
The sound carries me back, for it was the first to greet me when I rose to
draw water and gather kindling in my roadmender days; and if I slip
back another decade they survey me, reproving my laziness, from the
foot of the narrow bed in my little attic overseas.
    Looking along the roadway that we have travelled we see the
landmarks, great and small, which have determined the direction of our
feet. For some those of childhood stand out above all the rest; but I
remember few notable ones, and those few the emphatic chord of the
universe, rather than any commerce with my fellows.          There was the
night of my great disappointment, when I was borne from my
comfortable bed to see the wonders of the moon's eclipse.
Disappointment was so great that it sealed my lips; but, once back on my
                              The Roadmender

pillow, I sobbed for grief that I had seen a wonder so far below my
expectation. Then there was a night at Whitby, when the wind made
speech impossible, and the seas rushed up and over the great lighthouse
like the hungry spirits of the deep. I like better to remember the scent
of the first cowslip field under the warm side of the hedge, when I sang
to myself for pure joy of their colour and fragrance. Again, there were
the bluebells in the deserted quarry like the backwash of a southern sea,
and below them the miniature forest of sheltering bracken with its quaint
conceits; and, crowned above all, the day I stood on Watcombe Down,
and looked across a stretch of golden gorse and new-turned blood- red
field, the green of the headland, and beyond, the sapphire sea.
     Time sped, and there came a day when I first set foot on German soil
and felt the throb of its paternity, the beat of our common Life.
England is my mother, and most dearly do I love her swelling breasts
and wind-swept, salt-strewn hair. Scotland gave me my name, with its
haunting derivation handed down by brave men; but Germany has
always been to me the Fatherland PAR EXCELLENCE. True, my love
is limited to the southern provinces, with their medieval memories; for
the progressive guttural north I have little sympathy, but the Rhine
claimed me from the first, calling, calling, with that wonderful voice
which speaks of death and life, of chivalry and greed of gold. If you
would have the river's company you should wander, a happy solitary,
along its banks, watching its gleaming current in the early morning, its
golden glory as it answers the farewell of parting day. Then, in the
silence of the night, you can hear the wash and eddy calling one to
another, count the heart-beats of the great bearer of burdens, and watch
in the moonlight the sisters of the mist as they lament with wringing
hands the days that are gone.
     The forests, too, are ready with story hid in the fastness of their
solitude, and it is a joy to think that those great pines, pointing ever
upwards, go for the most part to carry the sails of great ships seeking
afar under open sky. The forest holds other wonders still. It seems
but last night that I wandered down the road which led to the little
unheeded village where I had made my temporary home. The warm-

                              The Roadmender

scented breath of the pines and the stillness of the night wrapped me in
great content; the summer lightning leapt in a lambent arch across the
east, and the stars, seen dimly through the sombre tree crests, were
outrivalled by the glow-worms which shone in countless points of light
from bank and hedge; even two charcoal-burners, who passed with
friendly greeting, had wreathed their hats with the living flame. The
tiny shifting lamps were everywhere; pale yellow, purely white, or green
as the underside of a northern wave. By day but an ugly, repellent
worm; but darkness comes, and lo, a star alight. Nature is full for us
of seeming inconsistencies and glad surprises. The world's asleep, say
you; on your ear falls the nightingale's song and the stir of living
creatures in bush and brake. The mantle of night falls, and all
unattended the wind leaps up and scatters the clouds which veil the
constant stars; or in the hour of the great dark, dawn parts the curtain
with the long foregleam of the coming day. It is hard to turn one's back
on night with her kiss of peace for tired eye- lids, the kiss which is not
sleep but its neglected forerunner. I made my way at last down to the
vine-girt bridge asleep under the stars and up the winding stairs of the
old grey tower; and a stone's-throw away the Rhine slipped quietly past
in the midsummer moonlight. Switzerland came in its turn, unearthly
in its white loveliness and glory of lake and sky. But perhaps the
landmark which stands out most clearly is the solitary blue gentian
which I found in the short slippery grass of the Rigi, gazing up at the sky
whose blue could not hope to excel it. It was my first; and what need
of another, for finding one I had gazed into the mystery of all. This
side the Pass, snow and the blue of heaven; later I entered Italy through
fields of many-hued lilies, her past glories blazoned in the flowers of the
    Now it is a strangely uneventful road that leads to my White Gate.
Each day questions me as it passes; each day makes answer for me "not
yet." There is no material preparation to be made for this journey of
mine into a far country - a simple fact which adds to                   the
'unknowableness' of the other side. Do I travel alone, or am I one of a
great company, swift yet unhurried in their passage? The voices of

                              The Roadmender

Penelope's suitors shrilled on the ears of Ulysses, as they journeyed to
the nether-world, like nocturnal birds and bats in the inarticulateness of
their speech. They had abused the gift, and fled self-condemned.
Maybe silence commends itself as most suitable for the wayfarers
towards the sunrise - silence because they seek the Word - but for those
hastening towards the confusion they have wrought there falls already
the sharp oncoming of the curse.
     While we are still here the language of worship seems far, and yet
lies very nigh; for what better note can our frail tongues lisp than the
voice of wind and sea, river and stream, those grateful servants giving
all and asking nothing, the soft whisper of snow and rain eager to
replenish, or the thunder proclaiming a majesty too great for utterance?
Here, too, stands the angel with the censer gathering up the fragrance of
teeming earth and forest-tree, of flower and fruit, and sweetly pungent
herb distilled by sun and rain for joyful use. Here, too, come acolytes
lighting the dark with tapers - sun, moon, and stars - gifts of the Lord
that His sanctuary may stand ever served.
     It lies here ready to our hand, this life of adoration which we needs
must live hand in hand with earth, for has she not borne the curse with
us? But beyond the white gate and the trail of woodbine falls the
silence greater than speech, darkness greater than light, a pause of "a
little while"; and then the touch of that healing garment as we pass to the
King in His beauty, in a land from which there is no return.
     At the gateway then I cry you farewell.


To top